- Associated Press - Sunday, April 19, 2015

North Carolina’s political battle over the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and early 1980s was bitter and divisive. It didn’t break neatly along party lines, but instead along cultural differences.

The legislature’s composition was overwhelmingly Democratic during that period. Men in the conservative wing of the party, many of whom opposed ERA’s ratification, often held key leadership positions.

But both GOP Gov. Jim Holshouser and Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt supported ratification, with Hunt going so far in 1982 as hiring gubernatorial campaign co-chair Betty McCain to serve as his lobbyist solely on ratification. Groups like the National Organization for Women invested heavily in the North Carolina campaign, according to “Sex, Gender and the Politics of ERA,” a book that in part examined North Carolina’s ERA fight.

Opponents had on their side Democratic U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin Jr. of Morganton, who led the Senate Watergate hearings, Chief Justice Susie Sharp and national activist Phyllis Schlafly. Conservative lawmakers were buoyed by a wave of female grassroots activists who believed feminists supporting ERA were attacking traditional womanhood, book co-author Donald Mathews said in a recent interview.

Men in the legislature “were surprised that they had so many women who were against it,” said Mathews, a retired professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “I think it made them think they (were) doing the right thing by opposing it.”

The closest the legislature ever got to ratification may have come in 1977, when the House voted 61-55 in favor of the amendment. One of the “yes” votes came from Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, who later became the only GOP speaker of the 20th century in 1995. Senators ended up voting 26-24 against the ratification bill.

State Senate conservatives defeated or scuttled ratification bills several other times, including a final effort as the ratification deadline approached in June 30, 1982. The chamber voted in early June to table the ratification bill by a vote of 27-23.

“I don’t think it was ever going to pass,” Mathews said. “I think it was going to lose by one or two votes no matter.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide