Introduction

Have you ever heard of the Equal Rights Amendment? The Equal Rights Amendment was the first and only piece of legislation proposed to assure equal protection under the law for all sexes. Because the Equal Rights Amendment was not ratified by enough states to become part of the Constitution, discrimination based on sex is not explicitly illegal. 

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)

The Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees equal rights and opportunities for citizens by making discrimination based on sex illegal. The ERA simply intends to assure equal constitutional rights to United States citizens of all sexes. The most recent proposition of the ERA reads, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.” The ERA was originally created to further the comprehensive civic status of women after winning the right to vote. To this day, the only right granted to women by federal law is the right to vote.  

The History of the ERA

The Equal Rights Amendment was written in 1923 by Alice Stokes Paul, a Quaker and a suffragette who dedicated her life to the pursuit of equal rights for women. At the Seneca Falls Convention of 1923, the 75th anniversary of the original Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, Alice Paul introduced the Equal Rights Amendment, declaring, “We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government.” The ERA was introduced to every session of Congress for 49 years before being passed in 1972 with the leadership of U.S. Representative Bella Abzug, the legendary Shirley Chisholm, and second wave feminist leaders Gloria Steinem, Betty Freidan, and Jill Ruckelshaus. After Congress passed the ERA, 38 out of the 50 states had to ratify, or confirm, the amendment within seven years for it to become law. 

Pro-ERA groups such as the National Organization of Women and ERAmerica worked tirelessly, campaigning for the ratification of the ERA in 38 states. Anti-ERA organizers, such as STOP ERA, led by Phyllis Schlafly, framed the ERA as undermining the “privileges” of women who preferred not to join the workforce, which had little to do with the legal reality of the proposed amendment, and more to do with an opposition to feminism as a way of life. Extremist Christian groups merged platforms with STOP ERA to fight against abortion rights for women. After seven years of battle, only 35 states had ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. In the summer of 1978, The National Organization of Women organized a 100,000 women march to request an extended deadline from Congress, which was granted. However, the political climate was turning more conservative as the election approached. The Anti-ERA organization provided the conservative Republican candidate, Ronald Reagan, with their database of conservative women, aiding his momentum in winning the popular vote. In 1980, the Republican Party removed support for the Equal Rights Amendment from its platform and elected Ronald Reagan as president. In 1982, the end of the extended deadline, the ERA was still three states short of full ratification.  

The ERA Today

Without the Equal Rights Amendment, United States citizens are not protected by the law from discrimination on the basis of sex, a very real problem that is visible in social phenomena such as the gender wage gap and sexual harassment. As the fight for women’s rights gained momentum again in the 2000s, efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment were revived. In 2017, Nevada became the first state since 1977 to ratify the ERA. In January of 2020, the ERA finally achieved ratification in 38 states, almost 100 years after the amendment was originally proposed in 1923. In February of 2020, The House of Representatives voted to remove the original time limit from the ERA, opening the legislation up to potential ratification for the first time in 38 years. The ERA would become the 28th Amendment to the Constitution, if passed. The argument behind the ERA is still the same as it was 100 years ago, that citizens of all sexes deserve equal protection under the Constitution. If this sounds like justice to you, you can take action by encouraging your state senators to support the current legislation, SJ Res 6, to remove the original deadline assigned to the Equal Rights Amendment and allow for full ratification of the ERA as the 28th Amendment. 

    Learn More

    1. Alice Paul Institute, (2018). Equal Rights Amendment Resources. https://www.equalrightsamendment.org/ and ERA Resources
    2. Alice Paul Institute: Education, Empowerment, Equality, (2015). “The History of the Equal Rights Amendment.” https://www.alicepaul.org/era/
    3. Mrs. America (2020). Created by Dahvi Waller. Hulu. 
    4. ACLU American Civil Liberties Union (2020). Know Your Rights: Sex Discrimination
    5. United 4 Equality, LLC. #ERA2020 Campaign. Equal Rights Amendment No Time Limit on Women’s Equality
    6. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, (2020). Pay Equity and Discrimination

    Think Further

    1. What are some examples of discrimination based on sex?
    2. How do the words spoken by Alice Paul almost a century ago resonate with you today? “We shall not be safe until the principle of equal rights is written into the framework of our government.”
    3. What is the connection between being safe and being protected by the law?

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