The first Catholic nun elected to public office in the U.S. was Sister Clare Dunn, a Tucson Democrat, to Arizona’s House of Representatives in 1974.
Foremost in Sister Clare’s initial legislative work was championing the Equal Rights Amendment. Her ratification attempt, initiated two years after Congress approved the amendment, was dismissed in committee. That should have been its end.
However, the Legislature, male and Republican dominated, had other plans. It chose the tactics described below to improperly drag the bill through the House, wiping the floor with it in a 41-19 defeat.
Sister Clare responded with this passionate speech to the Legislature, delivered Feb. 25, 1975, and to be read into the legislative record again Thursday, March 7: March 7
I realize that there are many people here who believe we should make a quick end to the “unimportant” issue so that we can proceed with matters of real moment. They will no doubt find these remarks boring, unnecessary, futile, and repetitious. Nevertheless I offer them without apology, believing that in the endless struggle for human rights far too little has been said.
Some apologies are in order, however. First, to the women of Arizona who have worked long and hard for this issue, I apologize for the shabby and belittling treatment given the Equal Rights Amendment by this body. To oppose a piece of legislation is one thing; to scornfully manipulate it through a series of torturous and ultimately face-saving maneuvers is quite another. The House of Representatives lived up to its reputation and chose the latter course.
The situation is not totally unredeemed. Many citizens watched the process with astonishment and incredulity. They saw that the nefarious methods by which a serious piece of legislation could be manipulated were not only tolerable but quite orthodox under our horse-and-buggy procedures. In a few weeks they have learned something about the Arizona Legislature which no civics book could have taught them and which they will not quickly forget.
Secondly, I apologize to the women of all of our states that the battle against sexism, that evil which is the source and model of oppression, has not been advanced here in Arizona, either by the quality of the debate nor by the unenlightened vote of the Legislature. Not that the ERA will end sexism, any more than civil rights legislation ended racism. The women of America are not so naive as to look for an aquarian age in which “love will steer the stars.” But passage of the amendment could surely accomplish two things:
1) It should end the legitimation of discrimination and unequal protection under the law. For anyone who blithely supposes that discrimination has ended, I cite only one example: a recent article in the Star which disclosed that out of 720 women on the faculty of the University of Arizona only 20 or 2.7 percent hold upper-echelon jobs, such as deans or directors.
2) The ERA should help to end the deprecation of the feminist movement and the refusal to take seriously what may well be the most fundamental revolution in history.
Many who will vote against this amendment say they do so because their constituents oppose it. Such a position is not tenable, any more than a negative vote on the great civil rights legislation of the 60’s could have been similarly justified by members of the Congress, whether from the North or from the South.
Others will opposed it because they see it as a threat; they are closer to the mark. Equal rights is a threat, just as the entire woman’s movement is a threat. But not because they seek to overturn conventional social relationships nor because they would ultimately destroy the family. If so, these institutions are already in real trouble. Rather, they are a threat because they seek to redistribute power and nothing could be more frightening.
I cast my vote today for the Equal Rights Amendment in behalf of the great women of our state and our country who have not spared themselves in this struggle for their rights and the rights of their sisters who either cannot understand or are unable to articulate our common experience of oppression. I know I speak for them when I say that we will not be intimidated nor deflected until that day when arrogance can no longer be construed as protection nor role fulfillment as personhood.
If, as someone has said, equality is a demand for concrete decisions, then I can assure you the cry for equality will not subside until we achieve the implementation of that most concrete of all decisions: the guarantee of constitutional protection for both sexes.
It will indeed be a bitter irony if the bicentennial celebration of our great republic comes and goes without it.
Now, Arizona could be the 38th state to ratify the ERA. Three legislators, Senator Michelle Ugenti-Rita (R), Representative Pamela Powers Hannley (D) and Senator Victoria Steele (D), have introduced the very same legislation that Senator Sandra Day (O’Connor) (R), and Representative Sister Clare Dunn (D) introduced in the mid-70s.
Asked what is different now compared to the last 46 years of failed ratification attempts, Dianne Post, lawyer and member of ERA Task Force AZ, explains: “Seventeen of 30 Senators have signed on the ERA this year. That is more than 16 for the Senate. Thirty of 60 Representatives, half the House, also have signed on the ERA this year. The House is split 29/31; we only need one more Republican vote.”
That is different.
Arizona isn’t the only state that has done noble battle for equal rights. Virginia lost by one vote.
But right now Arizona is one vote from dispelling the threat that failing to redistribute power equally to half the population presents.
The ERA will be ratified. Thirty-seven states represents too much approval for it not to happen.
Ratification, affecting the nation, would be fitting amends for the decades of “shabby and belittling treatment given the Equal Rights Amendment” by Arizona’s legislature.
Sister Clare, and all women, deserve this win.