“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” - Full text of the Equal Rights Amendment, passed by Congress but not yet ratified.
Background and Recent Activity
94% of adults believe in equal rights. 80% of Americans think the Constitution guarantees them. It does not. While the 19th Amendment guarantees the vote, it does not give women “equal justice under law.” The 24 words of the ERA are what’s required to guarantee the rights of women. Until it is passed, women are not guaranteed the same rights as men under the law.
"The symptoms of this systemic discrimination are clear in the ongoing fights against unequal pay, workplace harassment, pregnancy discrimination, domestic violence and limited access to comprehensive healthcare. It is not enough to treat the symptoms; we must address the root cause of inequality by amending the Constitution." ~ LWVUS
Efforts to provide women the same rights as men under the law aren’t new. Suffragist Alice Paul first proposed the ERA in 1923, but it wasn’t until 1972 that Congress passed it and sent it to the states for ratification. By 1977, 35 state legislatures had ratified, but by then a strong opposition to the Amendment took hold, and when the extended deadline for ratification came on June 30, 1982, the ERA was still three states short of the 38 required for amendments to become part of the Constitution.
Although the deadline for ratification has passed, three more states have recently ratified the ERA (Nevada in 2017, Illinois in 2018, and Virginia in 2020.) Now it's critical that Congress eliminate the deadline to ratify the ERA. There is precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court in two cases – Dillon v. Glass and Coleman v. Miller – demonstrating that Congress can act to ratify despite a deadline having passed. Indeed, these rulings played a part in Nevada’s ratification of the ERA in 2017.
The Constitution gives Congress the sole authority over the amendment process. In support of the ERA, the US House passed HJ Res 79 to remove the ratification deadline. Now it’s critical that the Senate does the same. Passage would allow the ERA to become law.
South Carolina and the ERA: Where Are We Now?
Why does it matter for South Carolina to ratify the ERA if there are already 38 states that have ratified? Back in March 1972 – the same month Congress sent the ERA to the states for ratification – the SC House unanimously voted to ratify (83 – 0). But then the resolution stalled in a SC Senate committee.
As one of only 12 states that have yet to ratify, South Carolina could be the first of the “Deep South” states to ratify. More importantly, it would highlight to Senator Graham, the Chair of the Judiciary Committee in the US Senate, that the ratification of the ERA needs to be moved forward.
Recent ERA resolutions in the SC House and Senate were supported by both Republican and Democratic legislators. Sadly, while some progress was made, Covid-19 brought everything to a stop. New bills will have to be introduced next year.
Partners and Resources
If you’re interested in working as a volunteer with our local League on the ERA, please contact Laura Cantopher: lcantopher [at] gmail.com. Join our SC ally Equal Means ERA to read more about the history of the ERA, find additional resources, and learn more about where members of the South Carolina House and Senate stand on the issue. We also recommend following the national ERA Coalition @ERACoalition for updates, and watching the documentary Equal Means Equal: