Is 2019 Finally Time for the Equal Rights Amendment?

Credit: Ping Zhu

With the current political climate so volatile and equality being threatened seemingly every day, now is the time to think seriously about protecting equal rights going forward. In her New York Times piece “What is the Equal Rights Amendment, and Why Are We Talking About it Now?” Maya Salam notes that while 80 percent of Americans believe that women and men are guaranteed equal rights under the law, it is simply not true.

Salam points out that in the minds of many, the term “Equal Rights Amendment” refers to an existing law, one that took care of “our” equal rights back in the 1970s. In fact, the E.R.A. is not yet a reality; the only equal protection and explicit right equal to men that women have under the United States Constitution is the right to vote. Salam admits that even as a feminist, she was not aware of the E.R.A. herself until recently, and the purpose of her piece is to spread the word on this important proposed amendment. She explains,

The E.R.A., a proposed amendment to the Constitution, would guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It would also require states to intervene in cases of gender violence, such as domestic violence and sexual harassment; it would guard against pregnancy and motherhood discrimination; and it would federally guarantee equal pay.

The Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed all the way back in 1923, and it was finally passed by Congress in 1972. So why hasn’t the E.R.A. been fully adopted and enshrined in the Constitution?

The problem, Salam writes, is that the E.R.A. did not have the 38 states needed for ratification by the 1982 deadline – it only had 35. (An anti-E.R.A. movement led by conservative, anti-feminist activist Phyllis Schlafly in the late ’70s and early ’80s was especially effective in stopping the amendment in its tracks.) In the past two years there has been renewed hope for the E.R.A. due to gains by three states for ratification; however, five states have rescinded their ratifications. Additionally, there is the issue of the 1982 deadline that now needs to be either repealed or overruled.

The hope is that with more women now in office, the support and dedication required to see the E.R.A. added to the Constitution is there. I agree with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s 2017 statement: “I would like to be able to take out my pocket Constitution and say that the equal citizenship stature of men and women is a fundamental tenet of our society like free speech.”

Read Maya Salam’s full piece on the E.R.A. in the New York Times.