The Revival of the ERA and Why It’s Important

Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that would effectively remove the deadline that was set into place in order to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (also known as the ERA). While this may not seem like that big of a deal… it is.

The earliest concepts of the ERA began to develop in the 1920s, but it began to rise to further prominence during the women’s rights movement throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The wording of the amendment plainly states: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” The amendment passed through the Senate and the House before it went on to be officially proposed as an amendment to be added to the United States Constitution. The amendment needed to be ratified by 38 states before it could officially become a part of the Constitution and a seven year deadline was given for this to occur. However, there were many conservative anti-ERA activists who led massive efforts to prevent the ERA from succeeding. Therefore, despite an extension given to the original deadline, only 35 states ratified the amendment before the new deadline and the ERA inevitably failed.

women placing sticky notes on wall Photo by You X Ventures from Unsplash Nevertheless, this wasn’t the end of the ERA’s journey. In January 2020, the state of Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, which means that the amendment technically has enough states required by Congress to continue with the ratification process. Moreover, the issue of the deadline passing used to seem like an impossible hurdle to pass over. That is, until last Wednesday when the House voted to remove that deadline. In the resolution that was just passed, Congress is essentially declaring that “the amendment shall be part of the Constitution whenever it's been ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states,” which it has been. So, once this resolution goes to the Senate, it will be an interesting moment in history to watch. If the Senate votes to go forth with this resolution, then the ratification process could restart and the amendment could hold the ability to finally become a part of the Constitution.

capital building Darren Halstead I think that it is important to note that the addition of this amendment to the Constitution wouldn’t somehow completely eradicate sexism or misogyny. This amendment certainly doesn’t even begin to cover the depths of feminism or the complexities of intersectionality that cause for institutionalized discrimination to persist in American society. The origin of this amendment stems from a realm of feminism that focused primarily on white, middle-class, cishet women and it is not the quintessential factor needed to somehow obtain gender equality. However, the ratification of this amendment would provide a constitutional backing for court cases that involve gender discrimination and it would definitely provide a solid foundation to build future legislation off of. A constitutional amendment could provide more protections for women in cases of job discrimination, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and so much more. This amendment would not be the answer to the inherent inequalities that are built into American society, but it could certainly be an essential part of a grander, more inclusive solution.

Cherry blossoms with Jefferson Memorial in the background Photo by Library of Congress from Unsplash The next few months are essential for the ERA. All eyes are on the Senate as they will eventually consider whether or not the deadline for the ERA should be removed. If this does occur and if 38 states maintain their ratification of the amendment, then the ERA could be added to the Constitution within the next year. The fact that it’s taken this long for the ERA to truly have a chance of being ratified is disheartening, but what matters the most now is pushing Congress to further the ratification process and to finally make the ERA a constitutional amendment. We should always be striving to reach a heightened, more progressive level of equality for all citizens and, as Representative Jackie Speier (a co-sponsor of the joint resolution) said, “there can be no expiration date on equality.