John Oliver: equal rights are ‘so obvious, you assume we already have it’ | Television & radio

John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on Sunday revolved around the topic of the unpassed equal rights amendment and its importance to gender discrimination.

John Oliver opened his monologue by talking about the hardships women have had to face in the United States recently. “It’s been an especially rough few years in America for women, from abortion bans to the confirmation of a supreme court justice with resting beer face, to the election of a president who thinks of their genitals as handles,” he said.

The equal rights amendment, which he thinks would be a step in the right direction for the country, says: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” Eighty percent of the country think it’s already in the constitution, but it has not been passed. “It’s one of those things that’s so obvious you assume we already have it. It’s like when you see baking soda at the store. You think ‘I don’t need to buy baking soda. I definitely already have baking soda, it’s a staple.’ And then you get home and you’re baking a cake and you’re reaching in the cupboard for baking soda and you realize ‘Fuck, women still aren’t guaranteed equal rights under the constitution.’”

Even though the amendment passed the House and Senate, it would need 38 states to ratify it, which has been the cause of the delay. So far, only 37 states have ratified it. There was a deadline in place of 1979, which Congress extended, but the states still had not ratified it.

The host then focused his attention on the woman who posed the biggest opposition to the amendment, Phyllis Schlafly. She made outrageous claims against the ERA, like it would outlaw sex-segregated bathrooms. Oliver described her personality as “a pre-internet internet troll”. Schlafly once greeted an audience by thanking her husband for allowing her to be there, to rile up feminists. Oliver joked: “OK, that ‘thank you’ to Fred is entirely unnecessary for two reasons. One, wives are not property of their husbands. Two, I’m not sure how big a sacrifice it was for Fred to spend a few hours not hanging out with Phyllis Schlafly.”

Schlafly was a mouthpiece for the religious right, who said the ERA would be a tool to expand abortion. Oliver clarified the amendment said nothing about abortion or anything else and only says the government cannot disadvantage women or men by gender but it did not stop conservatives from rallying against it.

The host then explained to his audience the ERA is needed despite laws on the books that protect against discrimination because laws can be rolled back, citing the Violence Against Women Aact which Congress let expire, and the 20 policy guidelines on Title IX anti-discrimination laws Trump has reversed. “A constitutional amendment like the ERA is more stable because constitutional amendments are safe from Donald Trump, unlike Melania’s hopes and dreams and any American flag he gets close to.”

To Oliver, the 14th amendment is not enough. While the amendment does guarantee individuals equal protection under the law and the supreme court often interprets this to mean gender discrimination, Justice Antonin Scalia didn’t think it should be interpreted that way, as he did not want to interpret outside of the written word. Oliver responded, “As insane as I personally find his philosophy of ruling on cases by jumping inside the long-dead brains of history’s various misogynists and racists, there are a lot of people who think that way and Trump has promised to put more of them on the bench, saying he wants justices ‘very much in the mold of Justice Scalia’, which I can only hope means dead, but I worry might mean interpreting the constitution without protections for gender.”

While the deadline passed decades ago, Congress could possibly change the deadline, and Nevada and Illinois have recently ratified the amendment. Now,an Arizona legislator said it would make history for the state. Oliver quipped, “Let’s be honest here: that just doesn’t happen much. The most famous part of Arizona is the Grand Canyon, you know, the part of Arizona where there’s notably less of Arizona.”

Then he left his desk to plead to each state, individually: “Could it be you, Oklahoma? You could be known for something other than tornadoes and musicals about how great morning is. Which it isn’t by the way. It never is, it’s just like night but unpleasantly brighter.” To Mississippi, after expressing outrage about their flag, he said: “Yeah, you could pass the ERA but, let’s be honest, it would be extremely out of character.” When it came to Alabama, he dismissed the state, “It definitely won’t be you but Virginia, it really could be you, plus you’re the birthplace of Chris Brown, Rick Santorum and Pat Robertson so frankly, you fucking owe America this.

“All I can say is somebody, please do it before Florida because I really do not want to give them credit for this,” he said.

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