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July 5, 2011Can you be truly independent if you don’t have equal rights under the law?

In the United States, Independence Day—held annually on July 4—commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The document’s second sentence is one of the most famous and consequential in American history:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Although penned by privileged white men, this passage has often been cited by marginalized groups in their fight for equal rights under the law, including the trail-blazers at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, who wrote in the Declaration of Sentiments “all men and women are created equal.”

Yet centuries later, women and men are not equal under U.S. law. In the view of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Women today are paid less than men for doing similar work—and legal recourse is limited.

That’s why we need the Equal Rights Amendment.

If passed, the ERA—introduced in every session of Congress since 1923—would guarantee equal rights for both sexes under the law. Since the Amendment was reintroduced last week, familiar critics have taken aim, hoping to derail—yet again—a much needed legal corrective.

On July 4, I thought of how sexism and bias undermine the guarantees to unalienable rights the ERA would provide. The Equal Rights Amendment would bring us closer to the ideals of the Founding Fathers.

We are all created equal—and the law should reflect this.