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Suffragists, from left, Susan B. Anthony (Joan Aeling), Clara Ueland (Alice Holz), Alice Paul (Florence Hedeen), Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Mary Adams) and Coya Knutson (Irene Weis) arrived to remind the audience of the history of women seeking equal rights. (Jean Ruzicka/Enterprise)

Coalition seeking equality amendment to constitution

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Members of a coalition seeking a state constitutional amendment for equality arrived in Park Rapids Friday, greeted by a corps of "historical suffragettes."

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Board chair of the Constitutional Amendment for Equality (CAFE), Elizabeth Johnson explained the group is seeking additional language in the constitution stating, "Equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of sex."

"It's a matter of human rights," she said. "We are talking about women and men being equal under our constitution.

"We hope to effect a sociological change in attitude toward women," she said of the initiative. "Laws are liquid. A constitutional amendment is solid bedrock."

Suffragists representing notable historical figures echoed the sentiments. After nearly a century, "we're still working for equality for women," Alice Paul (Florence Hedeen) said.

Women began campaigning for suffrage - the right to vote in the United States - in the mid-1800s via marches, rallies, speeches and appeals to legislatures and Congress.

They were dismissed, ridiculed, derided and often abused for their efforts. In 1920, the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which granted women the right to vote, brought success to their 75-year campaign.

But CAFE contends gender equality is not guaranteed by the Minnesota state constitution.

Constitutional amendments currently exist authorizing a state lottery, protecting hunting and fishing rights, dedicating money to the environment and authorizing money to Vietnam and Persian Gulf Veterans, she pointed out. But none addresses equality.

CAFE launched a statewide tour last week, hoping to garner support leading up to the 2010 Minnesota legislative session,

The organization is inviting organizations, businesses, nonprofits, labor unions, faith groups and individuals to become a member of the Minnesota Constitutional Amendment For Equality Coalition

A constitutional amendment does not have to be approved by the governor, so if a simple majority in both the House and Senate approves, the amendment can be placed on the ballot statewide in the elections Nov. 2.

Opposition is reportedly expected from anti-choice and anti-GLBT groups.

For more information on Minnesota CAFE, visit www.mncafecoalition.org.

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