Anne Follis believes columnist Erma Bombeck said it best when she referred to the Equal Rights Amendment as "the most misunderstood issue since one size fits all."
So this week, Follis, national president of the Homemakers for Equal Rights Association (HERE), joined Dale Laney, HERA Virginia state coordinator, and Katherine East, a long-time women's rights advocate, at the Sterling Community Center to kick off the opening of the first Virginia chapter of HERA.
"Opponents have tried to distort the Equal Rights Amendment and confuse it with unrelated issues like coed rest rooms, homosexual marriages and abortion in order to scare people and make them back off," Follis told an audience of 15 including State Sen. Charles Waddell (D-Loudoun).
"When these arguments are worn thin, the next scare tactic used is, 'It's a grab for power at the federal level. Those feds are out to take away states' rights,' she said.
Follis spoke before the kickoff meeting, which was hastily moved up a month to allow her to speak here before she continues her trip to Richmond for an ERA breakfast.
"ERA simply says that equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States of any state on account of sex," she said. "Section Two says, "The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."
"There's nothing about homosexual rights and the like," Follis pointed out.
"And Section Two of ERA will not take away state laws, but will give them a standard by which to change their laws."
Follis contended that there are many myths generated by ERA opponents, among them the "special privileges" homemakers would lose if ERA is passed.
"Laws that discriminate against women discriminate against homemakers most," said Follis, who is the wife of an Illinois minister and the mother of three children. "The Constitution and state laws were based on the concept of English common law, which was described by English jurist Blackstone 200 years ago as meaning" when a man and woman get married, they become one and that one is the husband.
"Our society tells us that being a homemaker is an important job in this country, but doesn't tell us the other side of the coin -- that when women become homemakers, they are robbed of legal rights and precious legal statutes."
As an example, Follis noted a case before the Louisiana Supreme Court last May in which a couple had bought a home jointly. Since the husband was in school, the wife was holding two jobs to support them and pay the mortgage. The husband sought and got a second mortgage on the house. When the wife protested to the bank that she did not want a second loan and pointed out that the house was jointly owned with her paying the mortgage, she was informed that under state law her husband was considered head and master of the household with total control over all community property. The husband got the loan, and later the couple lost their house because they could not meet the additional payments.
The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that a law giving a husband absolute household power did not discriminate against women. But because of controversy created by the case, state law was changed, giving a wife a choice of whether to sign away her rights to her husband.
"Opponents talk about the wonderful rights wives have to be supported by their husbands, but fail to mention it is completely unenforceable in an ongoing marriage," said Follis.
Follis believes that HERA, which was founded in Illinois in 1976 and has 17 chapters and 2,000 members nationwide, has acted and will continue to act as a counterpoint to opponents just by its very existence.
"Opponents say they represent homemakers and are concerned basically about the homemaker and the family. HERA counters this argument," she said in an interview after the meeting. "We are a group of homemakers, we are feminine, we are concerned about our families. It's the kind of group needed most in conservative states like Virginia."
State Sen. Waddell said he believes that chapter will be a boost for ERA in Virginia, but he does not believe the boost will come soon enough for the current session of the General Assembly, which started this week.
"It would be difficult to educate and convey the ideas expressed here tonight to all 140 delegates in this session," said Waddel, a long-time supporter of ERA in Virginia.
He added that passage of ERA in the coming session was highly improbable.
Last year, when ERA made it to the floor of the Virginia Senate it was one vote shy of the 21 it needed for passage.