The Dream of Equality Lives: The Revival of the Equal Rights Amendment

The fight for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is seeing a revival across the country. 35 years after Congress’s deadline for ratification passed, advocates for gender equality are gaining momentum in the push for a constitutional protection against discrimination based on sex.

A survey conducted last year found that 80 percent of Americans polled thought the U.S. Constitution already had an ERA guaranteeing equality between men and women. In reality, the dream of constitutional equality stalled in 1982, the year that Congress had anointed as the arbitrary deadline for the ERA’s passage. At that time only 35 states had ratified the amendment, 3 short of the required 38.

The ERA sat with the approval of only 35 states until just last month, when Nevada became the 36th state to ratify, finalizing the formalities on March 22, 2017, exactly 45 years after it was first passed by the United States Senate. North Carolina lawmakers have introduced bills in the House and Senate for ratification, and activists are now setting their sights on Virginia and Illinois.

The ERA’s passage in Nevada is more than symbolic. Many legal scholars point to the 1982 deadline as a policy hurdle, not a constitutional one, as many amendments to the Constitution never included a time limit. In fact, the 27th Amendment concerning Congress’s salaries wasn’t ratified by the states until 203 years after its passage. Congress can simply vote to remove or change the deadline as they did in 1979 when they extended the ERA’s ratification time limit by 3 more years.

94 percent of Americans support the ERA, an approval rating that the poll’s conductor called “as close to unanimous as support could possibly be.” Yet conservative lawmakers are still making the same arguments against the ERA that they’ve been making for half a century.

Republican men in Nevada ominously warned that an ERA would lead to an increase in abortions, the deterioration of families, and the drafting of women into military combat. Some even tried to argue that women have already achieved full equality, and therefore, don’t need a constitutional protection.

Of course the truth lies in the gender wage gap, the prevalence of violence against women, the rampant discrimination in hiring and education, and the stigmatization and legislation of women’s healthcare. In fact, one need only look at the demographic of people occupying the seats in Congress and state houses across the country to see with their own two eyes that women clearly have not achieved full equality.

To the many who thought that America was making progress full steam ahead on all the aforementioned injustices, the election of Donald Trump and the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court have ignited a rude awakening: a lot of gains can be reversed and women need a constitutional amendment protecting the hard-fought rights they deserve.

 

Media Resources: National Council of Women’s Organizations 05/2016; PR Newswire 6/17/16; New York Times 3/25/17;

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