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Equal rights measure is unnecessary

Discrimination on the basis of gender is deplorable and never justified, and preventing it is an important goal. If we thought Ballot Measure 89 was needed to do that we would support it. But the Oregon Constitution already prohibits all kinds of discrimination.

Measure 89 is modeled after the national Equal Rights Amendment, which has never been ratified. Oregon ratified the ERA in 1973.

An Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution might still be worthwhile, but that doesn't mean Oregon needs one. Article I, section 20 of the Oregon Constitution states:

"No law shall be passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges, or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not belong to all citizens."

Backers of Measure 89 say this clause was never intended to apply to women, written as it was by men in 1857, when women could not vote or own property. But constitutions are living documents, subject to frequent review by the courts. In 1982, Betty Roberts, the first woman to serve on the Oregon Supreme Court, wrote the majority opinion that Article 1 Section 20 absolutely prohibits gender-based discrimination.

Measure 89 has attracted a long list of supporters, many of them elected officials. There is certainly no downside to supporting a new prohibition against gender-based discrimination. There certainly could be consequences for candidates who didn't support Measure 89, which probably explains the lack of organized opposition.

That doesn't mean there isn't any, however. The American Civil Liberties Union, hardly bashful about fighting discrimination of all kinds, says Measure 89 is unneeded, and would amount to amending the constitution for symbolic reasons. The ACLU maintains constitutional amendments should done for meaningful reasons, not to make a symbolic point.

Oregon's system of initiative petitions has resulted in many constitutional amendments over the years, not all of them necessary.

The privileges and immunities clause may not specifically mention women or gender, but it doesn't mention racial minorities, either. That doesn't mean every group that might be subject to discrimination needs to pursue an amendment to make sure they're protected. The constitution's language is clear, and it applies to everyone.