What is the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)?
The ERA is an amendment to the United States Constitution that would guarantee equal rights to all Americans, regardless of sex. The ERA would provide a fundamental and universal legal remedy agains discrimination for both women and men.
A little Herstory
The ERA, written by suffragist Alice Paul, was originally proposed in 1923 and was introduced into every legislative session of the US Congress for the next 50 years. It wasn't until 1972 that Congress overwhelmingly approved it (over 90% in both Houses) and sent it to the states for ratification. The affirmative vote of 38 state legislatues is required to make an amendment into law.
Within the first two years 33 state legislatures ratified, and a few years later, two more states signed on. But by then a strong and well-organized opposition had taken hold. Even though the seven-year deadline was extended to ten (on June 30, 1982), the ERA fell three states short when the extension expired.
So why now?
On March 22, 2017 (45 years to the day) the Nevada state legislature became the 36th state to ratify the ERA, breathing new life into the movement. And in May of 2018, Illinois became the 37th. The ERA has just one state to go.
Doesn't the Constitution already guarantee equal rights?
No, even though 90% of American adults believe it does. In the words of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia:
"Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only question is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't." ~Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (1/4/2011 CA Lawyer)
The Constitution was written over 230 years ago, created as our country's founding document from which all laws would originate (the Rule of Law). But the Constitution was written by men, for men. At that time, 1787, women were not considered "citizens" and had no rights except those given to them by their fathers or husbands. When "originalists" interpret the Constitution, women and sex simply don't exist.
Many argue that we have laws in place to protect women from discrimination. That is true, but the laws are limited and often pertain to certain types of employment or education. They are not comprehensive and differ from state to state. These laws are also subject to the interpretation and revocation by whichever legislative body, court or administration is currently in power. One bad election could wipe them all away.
The only remedy to define the legal statue of women is to amend the Constitution to protect it. The ERA would provide a solid foundation for that protection by applying a single legal standard to cases of sex discrimination. All courts, regardless of state, would be obliged to use that single standard in making their rulings.
If the 38th state ratifies, what then?
Article V of the Constitution gives Congress broad interpretative powers over the amendment process. Most likely the Judiciary of the House of Representatives would determine if the deadline could be continued. Since Congress has extended it once before, there is no logical reason it would not do so again.
What YOU can do today!
- Spread the word about the ERA to friend and colleagues through conversation and social media.
- Educate yourself at EqualMeansEqual.org and join Equal Means ERA on Facebook.
- Tell your legislators that you support the ERA and you want them to as well.
- Help candidiates who support the ERA.
"If I could choose an amendment to add to the Constitution, it would be the Equal Rights Amendment. I think we have achieved that through legislation, but legislation can be repealed, it can be altered. I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notiion – that women and men are persons of equal stature. I'd like them to see that is is a basic principle of our society." ~Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 4/18/2014, the National Press Club
For information contact brbfry [at] gmail.com (Barbara Fry), League of Women Voters of Charleston, Equal Means ERA Coalition
Read more about the history of the ERA in South Carolina here.