It’s Time To Pass the Equal Rights Amendment

Tarrant County Democratic
Women Club

This is my favorite saying right now.  I believe it sums up the Equal Rights Amendment

very succinctly.  Ensuring equal rights for everyone, regardless of sex, doesn’t take anything away from anyone else.  It’s not pie! 

A recent article in the Washington Post suggested now is the time to finally add the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution because “women now have the tools to overcome opposition.”1  I hope so.  Historically, this has not been true as quite a bit of the opposition to the amendment has been led by women. 

As a reminder, this is what the ERA, in its current iteration, says: 

Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Sounds reasonable.  Straightforward.  Uncomplicated.  Then why hasn’t it been passed? 

The ERA was originally proposed in 1923 having been authored by activist Alice Paul.  It was reintroduced in Congress every session until it finally passed both houses in 1972.  Within the first 2 years of its Congressional passage, 34 states had ratified the amendment.  It appeared the ERA was on its way to being constitutional!  However, ultimately ratification was not successful as only 35 of the required 38 states voted for ratification.  (Texas voted for ratification.  Hey – it was the 1970’s – Texas was still run by Democrats back then!)

Historians believe that one of the biggest influences in opposition to the amendment was movement conservative Phyllis Schlafly.  About 1972, Mrs. Schlafly mobilized conservative Christian women across the U.S. to oppose the ERA.  Her premise was that passage of the ERA would take away protections for women, for example, being exempt from signing up for the draft, decriminalization of rape, allowing for same-sex marriage, and forcing the use of unisex toilets (horrors!).  Basically, the ERA was seen as a threat to the traditional role of women in the U.S. as wives and mothers.  One of the STOP ERA movement slogans was “I am for Mom and apple pie.”  As a result of Ms. Schlafly’s influence, the ERA was removed from the Republican party platform at their 1980 national convention.

I have an extremely clear recollection of sitting in our very conservative Christian church with my Mom in 1972 when the preacher walked around with petitions to stop the ERA.  Mom looked at me and said in her very best church whisper, “Don’t you dare sign that petition!  Jesus doesn’t pay our rent!”

Because of the efforts of Ms. Schlafly and her organization, the amendment fell short by 3 states. Then in 1982, the timeframe for ratification expired.  However, before the deadline for ratification passed, 4 states rescinded their original ratifications.  Whether or not a state legislature has the ability to rescind is another matter.  In addition, 2 more states ratified the amendment after the time had run out.  Article V of the constitution is silent on these points, making the entire process a little murky.

Some wonder if we still need the ERA.  I believe our country needs to clearly state in our constitution that a citizen’s rights are not based on their gender.  

At the time the constitution was written, the authors did not consider that the rights being crafted would apply to anyone except white males. 

If this was not so, why did we need the 15th Amendment removing the race stipulation for voting?  And then again the 19th Amendment removing the sex stipulation for voting?  So, yes, we need an amendment which makes it clear that the constitution is talking about ALL Persons. 

There is an argument that rights which would be guaranteed by the ERA, have been decided as law.  Such as, the Supreme Court has ruled on same sex marriage and abortion, making them legal.  The Equal Pay Act of 1963 supposedly outlawed gender-based pay bias.  (Of course, you might want to ask the US Women’s Soccer team about that.)  Civil Rights Act of 1964 set some gender discrimination parameters.  Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972 made sex discrimination illegal in educational institutions receiving Federal financial assistance.  Isn’t this enough?  Aren’t women adequately protected by these laws? 

The problem is these laws are legislative, not constitutional.  New laws and Supreme Court rulings can change or weaken these established statutes.  Whereas an amendment to the Constitution must be ratified by a majority of the states and cannot be legislated-away.  I also believe, this amendment “would force a constitutional reckoning for sex-based discrimination.”2

I believe it is time for women to again push for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.  We have momentum as evidenced by the number of women elected in 2018, the number of women currently running for office, and movements like the Women’s March.  Plus, most of the dire conservative threats to the fabric of America which lead to the 1970’s opposition are now legal and accepted.

It is up to us as women (and the men who support us) to come together to get this vital amendment passed.  Women cannot afford to be divided on this issue if we expect to be successful   All women – every ethnicity, religious belief, political persuasion – must be part of any effort to get into our constitution that  “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

It makes sense.  And it’s not pie.

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