Equal Rights Amendment
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The so-called Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution passed by Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification with a deadline for ratification of seven years. It was stopped by a conservative grass-roots movement that raised a number of objections, including the following:
- it would require drafting women just like men, and putting women in combat just like men
- it would require taxpayer-funded abortion
- it would require same-sex marriage
- it would expand the power of the federal government and the courts
- it would require identical treatment of men and women, and boys and girls, in many other areas of life, such as schools and school activities
The amendment, which was untitled, stated:
- 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.
The purpose of the ERA was to prohibit many legal distinctions between men and women, and boys and girls. An all-male draft or male-only combat regiments would presumably have become illegal. But equal representation of boys and girls on sports teams, and the termination of all-boys or all-girls sports teams, would probably not have been required, since the courts usually treat some gender distinctions as a bona fida operating qualification for which discrimination is allowed.
Thirty-five out of the required 38 states ratified the amendment, but opposition led by Phyllis Schlafly ultimately defeated it. Congress then extended the deadline to 1982 in legislation that was later invalidated, though no other states ratified the amendment in the additional three years. Several states rescinded their prior ratification of the amendment.
After women won the right to vote with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, the next step for some feminists was the the ERA; it was introduced in Congress and rejected in every one of its sessions from 1923 until 1972.
It was initially authored by Alice Paul, head of the National Women's Party, who led the suffrage campaign. The original version of the ERA stated that "Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction."
The ERA was opposed by women who wanted special laws to protect women workers, including Eleanor Roosevelt. It was mostly supported by middle class Republican women. After Congress adopted the ERA and sent it to the states, a leader in opposing ratification was Phyllis Schlafly.
The Congressional resolution that proposed the amendment set a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979. Through 1977, the amendment received 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications. Five states later rescinded their ratifications before the 1979 deadline, though advocates of the ERA dispute the validity of these rescissions. In 1978, a joint resolution of Congress extended the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982, but no further states ratified the amendment before the passing of the second deadline. Some ERA advocates have argued that the deadline is non-binding and have lobbied state legislatures to either ratify for the first time or reverse their rescissions decades after 1982.
The ERA was advocated for by Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. For example, a pro-ERA site claims that "[t]he new Constitution's promised rights were fully enjoyed only by certain white males. Women were treated according to social tradition and English common law and were denied most legal rights. In general they could not vote, own property, keep their own wages, or even have custody of their children."
In fact, the U.S. Constitution actively denied women the right to vote in the late 1800s by including gender specific language in the Fourteenth Amendment. Section two of the Fourteenth Amendment specifically uses the phrase "male inhabitants" to continue the disenfranchisment of women.
The Canadian equivalent to the ERA is known as Charter Section 28. It was ratified as a section of the Canadian Constitution in 1982, and came into effect in 1985. Since then, many laws have been invalidated because they were in violation of Charter Section 28.