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What is the Equal Rights Amendment or ERA?

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Question: What is the Equal Rights Amendment or ERA?

Proposed and passed by Congress but never ratified by the necessary number of states, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) affirms equal justice under the law to all citizens by guaranteeing freedom from sex discrimination. It was the brainchild of suffragist Alice Paul, founder of the National Women's Party, who wrote the ERA in 1923 as follow-up to the 19th amendment (granting women the right to vote.) Paul believed the ERA was the next necessary step to secure and codify women's rights in the U.S.

Answer: First brought before Congress in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment has been introduced into every session of Congress between 1923 and 1972. In its original form, the ERA advocated for the end of gender bias in 18 short words:

Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.
Support for the ERA could be found in the party platforms of both the Republicans and the Democrats by the time Paul rewrote the amendment in 1943:
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Despite nearly 50 years of inaction, a reworked version of the Equal Rights Amendment was finally passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives in 1972 as the proposed 27th amendment to the Constitution. The ERA now included three sections:
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.

On March 22, 1972, the ERA was sent to the states for further action. For the amendment to become law, three-quarters of the states needed to ratify the ERA within a 7-year time frame. Although reaching the magic number of 38 states initially seemed likely, strong opposition to the ERA surfaced among far-right religious groups, states' rights advocates, businesses, and other traditional organizations. By 1977 only 35 states had ratified the ERA. After much public pressure, Congress extended the deadline for ratification to June 30, 1982. However, the tide had already turned by 1980 when the Republican Party removed support for the ERA from its platform. That same year, the election of Ronald Reagan as president ushered in a significantly more conservative era.

Two weeks after it failed to gain ratification by the necessary 38 states, the ERA was again reintroduced in Congress on July 14, 1982, and continued to be introduced in every session of Congress.

The 7-year time frame is no longer an issue in more recent versions of the ERA. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) introduced a deadline-free ERA in the Senate and House respectively in the 110th Congress.

With the 2008 election of Barack Obama as President of the United States, many feel that the time is right for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. At an awards ceremony sponsored by the National Women's Political Caucus on July 14, 2009, Rep. Carolyn Maloney announced her intent to reintroduce the ERA in Congress on Tuesday, July 21, 2009, telling the assembled audience, "If we can get it to the floor, it can pass."

Sources:
Francis, Roberta W. "The History Behind the Equal Rights Amendment." EqualRightsAmendment.org, retrieved July 20, 2009.

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