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'Two steps forward, one step back' on equal rights decisions

A decision more than 40 years in the making, and another just a day old, have equal rights supporters torn. Cakes and old legislation have one thing in common now.

Whether you love it or hate it, the two topics are a nucleus of the latest equal rights movement nationwide, coming on a split decision.

Illinois lawmakers passed a symbolic measure in support of equal rights, but a decision in Colorado dampens excitement for local advocates.

“This issue is going to be revisited,” says Tri-State Alliance President, Wally Paynter. “Is decorating a cake speech? Or is cake just a cake?”

It’s a question LGBT supporters, local and state leaders, and the U.S. Supreme Court have struggled with for years. This week, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex couple.

“Do we want businesses that put a sign on the door saying there are the people we do not serve? We've been through that as a nation,” Paynter says. “It's the 2 steps forward, 1 step back and the step back is painful.”

Paynter clearly stands on one side of the equal rights debate, but some downstate Illinois lawmakers from our area may feel differently. The Equal Rights Amendment passed the Illinois legislature last week.

The amendment to the U.S. Constitution was first proposed more than 40 years ago. It guarantees equal rights for all Americans regardless of sex, but the deadline to ratify passed in 1982 so Illinois' vote is only considered symbolic.

State Senator Dale Fowler (R – Harrisburg), and State Representatives David Reis (R – Olney) and Natalie Phelps Finnie (D – Harrisburg) voted ‘no’ on the ERA.

State Sen. Dale Righter (R – Mattoon) did not vote. Eyewitness News tried to reach his office for comment, but a message said he is out of the office this week.

Only Sen. Fowlers’ office returned a call. He says he supports women having equal protections but adds the legislation contains dated language. His entire statement reads:

“Ensuring that women have equal protection and rights is something that I fully support. However, SJRCA 4 has serious problems that continue to cause me concern. The legislation contains dated language that poses a real threat of detracting from essential protections in place for women today while also potentially allowing for the expansion of abortion coverage here in Illinois. When it came to a vote, SJRCA 4 contained some fundamental issues that I could not ignore,” said Senator Fowler (R-Harrisburg). “We should be pushing for change that takes into consideration the needs of today’s society, fights for real equality and ensures that we safeguard essential protections for women and families.”

There are 13 states, mostly in the south, that have not passed the ERA. Congress has the power to change the deadline and add the amendment to the Constitution, however one more state needs to approve before it could even be considered.


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(This story was originally published June 5, 2018)

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