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9 Things You Should Know About the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)

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When earlier this year Illinois ratified the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution, questions arose about the potential for the amendment to be adopted in the near future. Here are nine things you should know about the ERA, its history, and its potential effects.

1. The original push for an equal rights amendment came from the National Woman’s Party (NWP) in 1921. The first version, introduced into Congress in 1923, was the “Lucretia Mott Amendment,” which read: “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” That version of the amendment was introduced in every session of Congress from 1923 to 1942.

2. In 1943, NWP founder and head Alice Paul rewrote the ERA to reflect the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments. The “Alice Paul Amendment” read: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” This version was introduced in every session of Congress from 1943 to 1972. During most of those years, the ERA had attached to it the Hayden Clause, which read: “Nothing in this Amendment will be construed to deprive persons of the female sex of any of the rights, benefits, and exemptions now conferred by law on persons of the female sex.” Many women’s rights groups and supporters, however, rejected this addition.

3. In 1972, a reworded version of the ERA was introduced that states:

  • 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.

This version passed both houses of Congress and was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification.

4. At various times in its history, both the GOP and also the Democratic Party supported and opposed passage of the ERA. In 1940, the Republican Party became the first national party to endorse the ERA. It would be added as a plank to the party’s platform in 1952, 1956, 1960, 1972, and 1976. But by 1980, due to the influence of conservative women within the party, the platform had changed: “We acknowledge the legitimate efforts of those who support or oppose ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. We reaffirm our Party’s historic commitment to equal rights and equality for women.” From the mid-1920s to mid-1940s, the ERA was opposed by many Democratic factions. Eleanor Roosevelt and most New Deal supporters opposed the ERA, because they believed it would harm labor unions and the labor movement. The party adopted the ERA in 1944, but it did not receive wide support among Democrats until after the rise of the “second wave” feminist movement in the 1960s.

5. After a Constitutional amendment has been officially proposed, either by Congress or a national convention of the states, the Constitution requires that it then be ratified by three-fourths of the states. Between 1972 and 1977 the following 35 states had ratified the amendment: Hawaii (1972), New Hampshire (1972), Delaware (1972), Iowa (1972), Idaho (1972), Kansas (1972), Nebraska (1972), Texas (1972), Tennessee (1972), Alaska (1972), Rhode Island (1972), New Jersey (1972), Colorado (1972), West Virginia (1972), Wisconsin (1972), New York (1972), Michigan (1972), Maryland (1972), Massachusetts (1972), Kentucky (1972), Pennsylvania (1972), California (1972), Wyoming (1973), South Dakota (1973), Oregon (1973), Minnesota (1973), New Mexico (1973), Vermont (1973), Connecticut (1973), Washington (1973), Maine (1974), Montana (1974), Ohio (1974), North Dakota (1975), and Indiana (1977). Five states would later rescind their earlier ratification: Nebraska (1973), Tennessee (1974), Idaho (1977), Kentucky (1978), and South Dakota (1979). By the time of the 1979 deadline, the amendment was still three states short of the required number needed for passage. The ERA was reintroduced in Congress in 1982 and has since been put before every session of Congress.

6. Most historians agree that public sentiment about the amendment changed during the 1970s primarily because of constitutional lawyer Phyllis Schlafly and her “STOP ERA” campaign. (The “STOP” was an acronym for “Stop Taking Our Privileges.”) Schlafly and her supporters were able to convince a significant portion of the American public that the ERA would lead to several negative consequences that conservative and religious citizens had not considered.

7. Schlafly’s campaign argued that rather than expanding the rights of women, the ERA would harm the interest of men, women, and children. Schlafly claimed that adoption of ERA would lead to all of the following:

  • ERA would take away women’s traditional exemption from military conscription and from military combat duty.
  • ERA would take away the traditional benefits in the law for wives, widows, and mothers. For example, she claimed it would be used to strike alimony laws and prevent mothers from being given chief consideration in custody cases.
  • ERA would give enormous power to the Federal courts to decide the definitions of the words in ERA, “sex” and “equality of rights,” thereby broadening abortion and homosexual rights.
  • ERA would give Congress the power to legislate on all areas of law, which include traditional differences of treatment on account of sex: marriage, property laws, divorce and alimony, child custody, adoptions, abortion, homosexual laws, sex crimes, private and public schools, prison regulations, and insurance.
  • ERA would force all schools and colleges, and all the programs and athletics they conduct, to be fully co-educational and sex-integrated.
  • ERA would mean the end of single-sex colleges.
  • ERA would force the sex integration of fraternities, sororities, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, YWCA, Boys State and Girls State conducted by the American Legion, and mother-daughter and father-son school events.
  • ERA would risk the income tax exemption of all private schools and colleges that make any difference of treatment between males and females, even though no public monies are involved. (“ERA would apply the same rules to sex that we now observe on race, and it is clear that no school that makes any racial distinctions may enjoy tax exemption.”)
  • ERA would eliminate veterans’ preference, since most veterans are men.
  • ERA would require “unisex insurance,” that is, would prohibit insurance companies from charging lower rates for women, even though actuarial data clearly show that women, as a group, are entitled to lower rates both for automobile accident insurance and also life insurance.
  • ERA would put abortion rights into the U.S. Constitution, and make abortion funding a new constitutional right. (Abortion supporters had used state-level ERA language to justify state funding of abortions.)
  • ERA would enshrine homosexual and transgender rights into the U.S. Constitution, because the word in the Amendment is “sex” and not “women” (i.e., the courts would define the word “sex” to include “orientation”).
  • ERA would legalize the granting of marriage licenses to homosexual couples.

8. Twenty states adopted state equal rights amendments between 1979 and 1998. The texts of most of these amendments either are similar to the proposed federal amendment or restate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Several states have used their ERAs to prohibit restrictions on abortion, Stephanie Russell-Kraft notes. In 1986, the Connecticut Superior Court struck down an abortion restriction using state’s ERA, ruling that “discrimination against pregnancy by not funding abortion when it is medically necessary and when all other medical expenses are paid by the state for both men and women is sex oriented discrimination.” In 1998, New Mexico’s high court ruled that a policy to restrict funding for “medically necessary abortions” violated the state’s ERA because it “result[ed] in a program that does not apply the same standard of medical necessity to both men and women.”

9. Since the 1982 deadline, there have been two main approaches to reviving the ERA. The first is a new joint resolution passed by the House and Senate that would allow the amendment to be presented once again to the states for ratification. The second approach is based on the continued legitimacy of the 35 state ratifications and ratification, thus needing only three additional states for passage. This second option, called the “three-state strategy,” would likely be challenged in the courts based on the expiration of Congress’s original ratification deadline and the rescission of ratifications by five states between 1973 and 1978.

Other posts in this series:

Russian President Vladimir Putin • Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh • MS-13 • Wicca and Modern Witchcraft • Jerusalem • Christianity in Korea • Creation of Modern Israel • David Koresh and the Branch Davidians • Rajneeshees • Football • The Opioid Epidemic (Part II) • The Unification Church • Billy Graham • Frederick Douglass • Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 • Winter Olympics • The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Murders •  Events and Discoveries in 2017 • Christmas Traditions • Sexual Misconduct • Lutheranism • Jewish High Holy Days • Nation of Islam • Slave Trade • Solar Eclipses • Alcohol Abuse in America • History of the Homeschooling Movement • Eugenics • North Korea • Ramadan • Black Hebrew Israelites • Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations • International Women’s Day • Health Effects of Marijuana • J. R. R. Tolkien • Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis • Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease •  Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State

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