SALT LAKE CITY - Chanting "Ho! Ho! Hey! Hey! Ratify the ERA!" supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment rallied behind Rep. Karen Kwan's resolution to have Utah be the 38th state to ratify it.
"The message we send about equal rights and the ERA can and will be a new chapter," Rep. Kwan, D-Taylorsville, told the crowd of about 200 on Tuesday.
But decades-old opponents like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a powerful voice on Utah's Capitol Hill, appear to be gearing up to fight it again.
The language of the ERA states: "The right of citizens of the United States shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."
FOX 13 first reported on Monday about Rep. Kwan's resolution. She said she is furthering a resolution she unanimously passed through the legislature earlier this year that affirmed support for women's rights in Utah and urged support for them nationwide. Utah was the first state to have women vote and the first state with women in the legislature. The state constitution already guarantees equal rights for women and men.
"We have 100, almost 125 years of ERA in Utah already," she said.
Rep. Kwan was joined by other women leaders including Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson and Councilwoman Shireen Ghorbanhi; Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City; and members of the House Minority Caucus including Rep. Stephanie Pitcher, D-Murray; Rep. Elizabeth Weight, D-West Valley City; and House Minority Whip Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay.
"Especially with Utah being one of the leading states for the gender pay gap here, women of Utah must know that they actually are protected," said Darlene McDonald, a supporter of ERA.
Across the rotunda, a couple dozen counter-demonstrators held signs saying the ERA harms women. Members of the group Big Ocean Women said they did not support the legislation and would work to defeat it.
"I’m pro-women but the language is too vague and it takes away our rights that we’ve already fought for," said Francesca Rose.
Grace Garn said she objected to the potential for unisex situations.
"I feel like it’s kind of a blanket statement of women and men being equal, but the reality of the situation is we’re different and that needs to be represented," she told FOX 13. "That needs to be acknowledged."
Opposition to the ERA created the Eagle Forum, which is still active in Utah politics. Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka told FOX 13 on Monday her group would oppose the ERA again.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a very vocal opponent of the ERA in the 1970s and '80s and signaled its opposition again. A spokesman for the faith told FOX 13: "The Church’s position on this issue has been consistent for more than 40 years."
In 1980, the Church said "Court and administrative interpretations of the ERA could endanger time-honored moral values by challenging laws that have safeguarded the family and afforded women necessary protections and exemptions." It included granting "abortions on demand," "homosexual marriages," women being subjected to the draft and more women working outside the home.
Retired Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham, who said she has been advocating for ERA since 1971, said the "old arguments" don't apply today. She called on lawmakers to get behind the bill to support women across Utah.
"This is not a partisan issue. Women are Republicans, women are Democrats, women are independents and all women and men in their lives should care about this," Durham said.
Rep. Kwan said she was prepared for opposition.
"This is a message of love and fairness and respect for women," she said. "So you know, people will do what they’re going to do and we’re going to continue to spread that love, that message of love."