RENO, Nev. (AP) — Nevada voters on Tuesday will decide to adopt or reject what is widely considered the most comprehensive state version of the Equal Rights Amendment, a sweeping update that would put protections in place for people who have historically been marginalized in the state Constitution.
Nevada’s ERA would amend the state Constitution to ensure equal rights for all, “regardless of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry, or national origin.” It is a more wide-ranging amendment than the federal ERA that Nevada adopted in 2017, which outlaws discrimination based on sex, though the push to ratify it in the U.S. Constitution remains gridlocked.
Proponents of Nevada’s ERA say that it would provide new tools to challenge discrimination and close loopholes where those rights are not necessarily guaranteed. Nevada state Sen. Pat Spearman, one of the sponsors, cited age protections for older workers laid off during the pandemic and transgender people having their identity protected as tangible differences under the amendment. Other proponents said that enshrining the ERA’s protections in the Nevada Constitution holds more weight and would be tougher to overturn than if they were in state law or left up to existing state and federal protections.
“(Laws) can be chipped away at or reduced,” said Kate Kelly, an author and activist who has traveled the country promoting both federal and state ERAs. “And we’ve seen that in the very recent past — statutory protections we thought were forever are being chipped away.”
The top concerns for groups opposing the ERA was protections for gender identity and expression as well as age. Several said expanding rights for gay marriage could infringe on their freedom of religion. Several groups did not want transgender people using bathrooms or competing in sports that align with their gender identity.
Janine Hansen, who leads the movement against Question 1, said the protections for gender identity could force her church in Elko County to perform gay marriages against religious leaders’ wishes.
“They have the right to get married,” she said. “But they want to force me and my church to allow them to get married.”
Fred Lokken, a political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, said the Equal Rights Amendment would not bar churches from their First Amendment rights “as long as they’re longstanding beliefs and practices.”
Though it shares its namesake, Nevada’s proposal is different from the decadeslong effort for the adoption of the federal ERA, which is still not in effect.
In 2020, versions of the federal amendment had been adopted by 38 states, pushing it over the threshold to be adopted federally. However, that came decades after the ratification deadline Congress set after it was passed in 1972, and five states — Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky and South Dakota — have moved to remove their prior approval. That means states can express support it individually, though it is not ratified into the U.S. Constitution.
Nevada could become the 27th state to adopt its own version of the ERA. Some states have more far-reaching than the federal ERA, while others protect against specific circumstances of gender-based discrimination.
Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Stern on Twitter: @gabestern326.
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Gabe Stern, The Associated Press