Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s role in getting women fair access to mortgage loans paved the way for female homeownership to rise
After buying a condo in southwest suburban Lemont last fall, Brittainy Barattia not only signed her name on the dotted line, but also her marital status.
“When you sign your homeownership paperwork, there are several times when you have to sign the state of your marital status,” she said. “And they have to read it to you, so it would be like, ‘For Brittainy Barattia, a single woman, Brittainy Barattia, a single woman.’ I’m like, ‘Mmm hmm, I get it. My mom gets it, too — she is hearing you right now.’”
Single women in the United States have outpaced single men when it comes to home ownership since the late 1980s, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. But it wasn’t until legal battles and a law guaranteeing equal access to credit passed just a few years earlier that women could buy homes independently.
And among the women who helped make it possible? None other than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late U.S. Supreme Court justice, who died last month at 87 after decades of championing gender equality.
“Her strategy has been to chip away at decades and decades of discrimination,” said Wendy Singer, director of education at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. “And she started doing this at a young age, by responding to letters at the New Jersey ACLU and working on one case at a time.”
As a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union in the early 1970s, a 39-year-old Ginsburg co-founded the Women’s Rights Project, taking on hundreds of gender discrimination cases. Many focused on financial issues, while some turned to inequality that men faced, building on a landmark case she argued that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause prohibits discrimination based on any gender.
“Her strategy was to focus on equality for all,” Singer said. “So she would fight cases where men weren’t receiving the same benefits as women.”
At the Skokie-based museum, the exhibit “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg” focuses on the feminist icon’s career, as well as her life as a working mother in a male-dominated field.
“She was a mom, she was a woman, she was Jewish; all of those things were against her when she was a young lawyer coming out of the gate,” Singer said. “She persevered, and she did it in a way that was authentic and effective.”
These victories helped carve out space for breakthroughs in financial equality for women, including the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibits creditors from discriminatory lending practices based on sex and marital status — thanks in no small part to the work of another feminist trailblazer, U.S. Rep Lindy Boggs.
While on the congressional banking committee that reviewed the ECOA before its passage, Boggs added the provision barring discrimination based on sex or marital status without telling her fellow committee members. Later, she told them she assumed it was an omission, and the bill passed unanimously.