The Equal Rights Amendment

Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

This is the main emphasis of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which was originally brought to Congress in 1923 born from the suffragist movement. It was introduced by Alice Paul, a feminist who helped lead the suffragist movement. The ERA was originally called the Lucretia Mott Amendment, named after an early proponent of women’s rights. It should come as no surprise that support for and ratification of this amendment is slow moving, when it took 70 years for women to gain the right to vote. For a thorough yet quick summary of the history and significance, see here.

The ERA wasn’t passed until 1972, but had to push the ratification year to 1982 where the amendment was three states short of ratification. The opposition mounted against the ERA as it started to have a chance in Congress, because there were fears the amendment would lead to a “complete unraveling of traditional American Society” (like seeing protective laws against sexual assault and providing alimony being swept away, or the tendency for mother’s to receive children in divorce cases being done with, or drafting women for war, and also seeing the elimination of single-sex bathrooms. Feminist groups saw this as a serious blow to moving towards true gender equality, and indeed saw women pitted against other women.

Since then, the ERA has been introduced to every Congress in the attempts to finally get it ratified. Currently advocates of ratifying the ERA are pursuing two routes: the traditional and the innovative. The traditional route attempts to get passage through a two-thirds vote in the Senate and House, with three-fourths ratification by the states. The innovative is a three-state approach, ratification of three more of the fifteen state legislatures that did not ratify the amendment in 1982. The fifteen states that did not ratify the ERA in 1982 were: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. This innovative approach would target the constituents and the representatives of these states in the attempt to get three of them to ratify the amendment.

Visualization of States who did and did not Ratify the ERA in 1982

In the 2014–2015 Congress, the wording of the ERA changed to “Women shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” This is more specific in who it is to effect, as well as what situations can or cannot be accounted for. If the ERA were amendmended like this, it would be the first time women are acknowledged in it and clarifies discrimination based on a person’s sex as unconstitutional.

Updated Visualization of Ratifying and Non-Ratifying States

This year on March 2nd, 2017, the state of Nevada ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. This is 35 years after the due date and 94 years after the Amendment was first introduced. The due date for ratification has already been moved once before from 1979 to 1982, and the amendment was born in 1923, so a time limit doesn’t really seem to matter for this amendment. If two more states could vote to ratify the amendment, the time table could easily be bumped up and the amendment legitimated and sworn into law.

A link to quick FAQs concerning the Equal Rights Amendment. Although commissioned by the ERA Coalition/Fund for Women’s Equality (and thus likely biased), a poll found the 94% of American’s support the Equal Rights Amendment. Eben with the plausible polling bias, it would be hard to falsify such a high support, almost unanimous. Thus, it hold that a majority of Americans support the Equal Rights Amendment.