ERA Explainer - Equality Now
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ERA Explainer

The Equal Rights Amendment would put protection for women and other marginalized genders directly into the United States Constitution.

Aren’t women already protected in the Constitution?

80 percent of people in the United States think that men and women are guaranteed equal rights in the U.S. Constitution. They’re wrong. One short sentence would make all the difference to ensure people protections under the Constitution, regardless of sex or gender.

The original drafters of the U.S. Constitution were all white, landholding (and many slave-holding) men. Women were never part of “the people” they envisioned in the Constitution.

Many years later the Supreme Court interpreted the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to protect women to an extent, but a special category was created for gender that offers far less protection than other protected categories like race, religion or national origin.

What is the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)?

The ERA is a very simple amendment that putting protection for women and other marginalized genders directly into the United States Constitution. The entire text of the proposed amendment is:

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.

It’s that simple.

According to a 2016 survey commissioned by the ERA Coalition, a whopping 94 percent of people in the United States would support an amendment enshrining gender equality into the Constitution.

When the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was passed by Congress in 1972, it was the culmination of a fight that had already lasted nearly four decades—and is still far from over.

Why Wasn’t the ERA Ratified Back in the 1970s and 1980s?

When the ERA passed in 1972, the legislation included a seven-year deadline. Upon reaching the original deadline without achieving the requisite number of state ratifications, advocates for the ERA convinced Congress to extend the deadline until 1982. However, anti-ERA groups and activists ramped up their opposition during that time, successfully mobilizing factions against the ERA and stalling the momentum the movement had enjoyed throughout the country. The 1982 deadline passed with the ERA falling three states short of the 38 needed for ratification.

What Would the Impact of the ERA Be?

The ERA has a two-year enactment clause. While American life is unlikely to change overnight, but its passage would be a significant historic victory for women’s and gender equality, and provide a permanent protection against laws that discriminate on the basis of gender.
Overtime, legal precedent would need to be established using the ERA as a piece of legislation. But the bedrock principle and protections the ERA offers would be enshrined in the United States’ most basic legal document, providing a permanent and powerful tool to achieve gender equality.

Doesn’t the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment Already Offer Protection in the Constitution?

While the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment has been interpreted to protect against discrimination on the basis of sex, that understanding of the Amendment is not assured or guaranteed.

The Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868 and it was not until over a century later, in the 1970s, that the U.S. Supreme Court began to apply the Equal Protection Clause to cases of sex discrimination. However, with its 1976 ruling in Craig v. Boren, the Court found that men and women could be treated differently under the law if such treatment served an “important governmental objective” without being in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Additionally, laws like Title IX and the Equal Pay Act are not permanent protections for women and can be rescinded or replaced at any time.

With the ERA, there is no room for doubt that discrimination on the basis of sex has no place in the United States.

Is an Amendment Like the ERA Something Other Countries Have?

Yes! There are currently 134 countries around the world with a provision in their Constitution that specifically addresses gender equality and a further 115 that have a provision that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Read more here.

What Is the ERA’s Current Status?

In 2017, Nevada became the first state in 45 years to pass the ERA, followed by Illinois in 2018.

We are now just one state away from ratification. In order to integrate the remaining ratifications, Congress must eliminate the original deadline. There are two bills pending in Congress currently to do just that: Rep. Jackie Speier's bill (H.J. Res. 79) and Senator Ben Cardin's bill (S.J. Res 6). In April the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held the first official hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment in almost 40 years.

On April 30, 2019 the House Judiciary Committee held the first hearing on the ERA in 36 years, marking an important step in what groups, including Equality Now, hope will be the final push to see gender equality enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. 

On November 13, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee passes H.J. Res. 79 and it will now go to the House floor for a vote.

The United States is currently just one state away from ratifying the ERA and all eyes are on the state(s) that could be next!

What Is Equality Now Doing to Help Ratify the ERA?

Equality Now is committed to helping Ratify the ERA and, once the amendment has been ratified, to helping secure its passage through Congress. We are dedicated to providing resources and forums for members of the public to learn more about this critical gap in the U.S. Constitution, and how it can be remedied.

What Can You Do To Put Women In The U.S. Constitution? 

1. Call on your Representatives to eliminate the deadline

2. Explore how you can get involved in grassroots action

3. Visit the ERA Coalition to learn more

The ERA in the Media 

Equality Now human rights attorney Kate Kelly discusses the ERA on Alyssa Milano’s “Sorry Not Sorry Podcast”

Why the United States Constitution Needs An Equal Rights Amendment - Teen Vogue

The Equal Rights Amendment’s surprise comeback, explained - Vox

The ERA Is Back in the News—This Is Why You Should Be Paying Attention - Glamour

The ERA Is Queer and We’re Here For It! - The Advocate