Four decades ago, when Phyllis Schlafly predicted that passage of the Equal Rights Amendment would open a legal path to same-sex marriage, she was the object of scorn and ridicule by the likes of feminist icon Betty Friedan, who famously declared she would like to burn her formidable opponent at the stake.
While Schlafly, seemingly against all odds, led a movement that defeated ratification of the ERA after it was overwhelmingly approved by Congress, some states adopted their own version, which largely mirrored the federal proposal.
Now, with same-sex marriage riding a state-by-state wave of triumph, a prominent inheritor of Friedan’s legacy has admitted Schlafly “was right.”
“Social conservative crusader Phyllis Schlafly, it turns out, was right when in the 1970s she warned that if the Equal Rights Amendment were ratified, we’d have homosexual marriage, women in combat, and unisex bathrooms. The ERA was never ratified, but the country took many of its lessons to heart,” she wrote.
Graff, a Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center resident scholar and the author of “What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution,” naturally qualified her admission by asserting that while Schlafly made an accurate prediction, same-sex marriage and other outcomes “weren’t things to warn against but to embrace.”
Asked by WND whether she felt any sense of vindication, Schlafly was matter of fact, pointing out that while she was roundly ridiculed, “most of what I said came from the feminists own words.”
“It was clear from the actual text of the ERA,” said Schlafly, still politically active at age 89 as president of the group she founded in the 1980s, Eagle Forum.
Schlafly argued the ERA would put “gay rights” into the U.S. Constitution because the key word used in the amendment is “sex,” not “women.”
“If you cannot discriminate on account of sex,” she reasoned, “it is perfectly obvious that if two men show up at the city clerk and want a marriage license, and the clerk says, ‘I’m not giving it to you because you are men,’ she had discriminated on account of sex.”
Schlafly, who was named one of the 100 most important women of the 20th century by the Ladies’ Home Journal, said she “just used facts and quoted what they said.”
“I think it’s now pretty clear that if the ERA had passed, we would have had same-sex marriage 25 years ago,” she told WND.
In the 1970s, Schlafly, heading an organization called the National Committee to Stop ERA, insisted there was no need for a federal ERA because “women already enjoy every constitutional right that men enjoy and have enjoyed equal employment opportunity since 1964.”
The proposed ERA passed the House 354-23 and the Senate 84-8 in 1972. When Schlafly began her campaign, the amendment had popular support and 30 states had quickly ratified it. But a decade later, the political tide had shifted and only five more states approved it, three short of the constitutional requirement.
By 1993, Schlafly’s prescience already became evident when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that its state ERA, referring to discrimination based on “sex” rather than “women,” mandated same-sex marriage.
In 2006, a Maryland court overturned the state’s same-sex marriage ban based on the state’s Equal Rights Amendment, which also banned discrimination based on “sex.”
Schlafly said the radical feminists supporting the federal ERA in the 1970s often insisted in media interviews that the proposed amendment was only about ensuring women had equal pay, dismissing her contention that it had anything to do with abortion, homosexual rights and re-envisioning family.
But Schlafly recalled to WND that in the 41 state hearings in which she testified, “not a single feminist lawyer ever came in and said the ERA would do anything for women in employment.”
“The equal-pay law was already passed before ERA came out,” she explained. “So it really had nothing to do with employment.”
One of Schlafly’s prime sources of information was an in-depth article published in the Yale Law Review in 1971 by prominent Yale Law School professor Thomas I. Emerson, who served in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration..
“It told exactly what ERA was going to do,” Schlafly said. “That was my main source of information. They let it all out. They didn’t deny anything.”
Significantly, future Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg co-authored a book in 1977 – funded by taxpayers, Schlafly pointed out – called “Sex Bias in the U.S. Code.”
Ginsburg and co-author Brenda Feigen-Fasteau, a feminist activist, “laid it all out,” Schlafly said.
“They said the idea of the family, with husband breadwinner and wife homemaker, must be eliminated.”
‘Relics of barbarism’
Schlafly said she never mentioned unisex bathrooms, but a related development that seemed equally preposterous 40 years ago already has come to pass in California. Last year, the California Legislature approved a law barring discrimination against transgender students that allows a male to use women’s bathroom and showering facilities if he chooses to identify as a female.
Regarding women in combat, which President Obama’s administration now is implementing, Schlafly said radical feminists never denied it was their intent to make women subject to the military draft.
“It is the classic sex discriminatory law. It said then and still says that male citizens of age 18 must register,” she said.
“All of these feminists,” she added, “said women were dying to go into combat, which, of course, is ridiculous.”
The activists convinced President Carter, however, that they could defeat Schlafly if they could convince the Supreme Court to rule in their favor.
In Rostker v. Goldberg in 1981, however, the high court ruled that because the real purpose of a draft is to get people into combat, and women were not put into combat, women did not have to be drafted.
“They all now admit that the new Obama rule to put women in combat puts in jeopardy that Supreme Court decision,” Schlafly said.
If there were a draft, she said, “the feminists would have a good argument that women would have to be drafted like men.”
Schlafly also noted the advance of other “alternatives” to the traditional family that were unthinkable only a few years ago, including polygamy.
In Utah last month, a federal judge struck down part of the state’s anti-bigamy law, calling it a privacy violation, and effectively nullified the state’s polygamy ban. It was the first ruling to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor, which struck down federal Defense of Marriage Act but stopped short of applying the ruling to the states.
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups called a 19th-century Supreme Court decision banning polygamy “racist” and “orientalist.” The judge didn’t like the fact that the old ruling presumed Christianity’s teaching on marriage to be superior to the polygamous arrangements of some cultures in Africa and Asia.
“I thought we had ended this 150 years ago,” Schlalfy said of polygamy.
The first Republican Party platform, she noted, adopted in 1854, endeavored to fight “the twin relics of barbarism,” slavery and polygamy.
Today, Schlafly affirmed, polygamy is only part of a larger effort to redefine the family.
She recalled that when President Carter planned to sponsor a White House Conference on the Family, activists persuaded him to change the name of it to White House Conference on Families, because they wanted “different kinds of families” to be represented.
‘I’m trying to get men to have the courage’
Asked to forecast where America is headed culturally, Schlalfy emphasized that the nation’s survival depends on “the nuclear family, that is, a provider, protector husband and a mother taking care of her children, married to each other, and raising their children.”
“Having stable, nuclear families like that is the way we became a great country,” she said, “and it’s absolutely essential, if you want to have limited government – which conservatives all say they believe in.”
Schlafly said a nation that tolerates a 41 percent illegitimacy rate invites “Big Brother government to come in and do what the provider husband is not doing.”
“I’m trying to get men to have the courage to attack what the feminists are doing to our country, and to understand the attacks on the family,” she said.
Radical feminists, Schlafly said, still think men are the enemy, but the feminists, she contended, are “the main reason why we have broken families, high divorce rate, illegitimacy.”
“I think the feminists have been responsible for destroying the family,” she said. “They are the biggest enemy of the family.”