For many, the Equal Rights Amendment has existed solely in the world of history textbooks. In 2020, however, the ERA has returned to its place on the national stage, and may become a permanent part of our Constitution.
Under the ERA, it would be illegal nationwide to participate in discriminatory behavior that is due to an individual’s gender. An amendment that once failed to ratify, the United States House of Representatives decided to pass a proposal to remove the time limit set on the ERA amendment back in February. The decision came after Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, qualifying the ERA to move forward in the legislative process.
With the restrictions lifted, the ERA now has a chance to be put to a vote in Congress and pass as an amendment in the United States Constitution. As of now, Congress is yet to set a date for voting on the fate of the amendment.
Where did this amendment come from? The first draft of the amendment was created in 1923 by Crystal Eastman and Alice Paul, two of the head leaders for the suffrage movement in the United States. This draft consisted solely of Section 1 of the amendment: “equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Beginning as early as the 1940s, both Republican and Democrat lawmakers began adding the ERA into their platforms. However, it was not until the 1970s when a new wave of young female legislators took the stage, that the ERA made serious gains in Washington.
In the end, the rise of a right-wing movement led by Phyllis Schlafly curbed the success of the ERA with its message that the legislation could strip the protective laws of vulnerable housewives. Eventually, the countermovement succeeded in preventing the ERA from being ratified by a slim amount – only five more states were needed to adopt the amendment.
Many strides have been made for female citizens of this country since the ERA was first put to a vote, but according to many female lawmakers, the ERA may be the solution to cover the remaining cracks in gender inequality. Referring to the application of the ERA in the workplace, legal theorist Catharine A. MacKinnon pointed out to the New York Times, “You go after sexuality and economics, you’ve gone to the heart of misogyny.”
The possible return of the ERA has also attracted the eye of democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and his vice president nominee, Senator Kamala Harris. The two announced that the ERA would be added into the “agenda for women” component of their platform. Other notable proponents of the measure include Speaker of the House, Nancy Pulosi, Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
Though the ERA has rendered much support in the past few months, some have offered a hesitant view on whether passing the amendment is warranted in the modern age, pointing out its apparent outdated format. Most famous of these critics is the late Justice Ruth Bater Ginsburg, as she said in a statement from February, “A number of states have withdrawn their ratification. So if you count a latecomer on the plus side, how can you disregard states that said ‘we’ve changed our minds?’”
Given its outdatedness, how would this amendment’s effects look in modern American society? One immediate practical value of adding the ERA into the United States Constitution is its increased protection for women serving in the military. The military has been under fire recently for the poor handling of cases involving mistreatment of their female volunteers. Under the ERA, these women would be guaranteed “equal justice under the law.”
Other possible benefits for women include protections against discrimination towards pregnant women, state intervention in domestic and sexual abuse/violence cases, and guaranteed equal pay in the workplace.
The ERA also offers a specific benefit which would affect the USC community and American educational system as a whole. It has been suggested that the ERA would prevent the existence of single-sex institutions whose aim is to encourage the dominance of one gender over the other. The amendment would also likely strengthen Title IX protections, which promotes equal opportunity in athletic programs and academics at an institution. This could range from better sexual assault prevention programs/protections for students, to equal education resources/opportunities for female students.
The ERA may not only pertain to the rights of women, but the LGBTQ+ population. Since the amendment includes the equal protection of citizens regardless of sex, this implies the protections of transgender folx.
The recent court case, Glenn v. Brumby, demonstrates the link between sex-based discrimination and gender expression, as it ruled, “Discrimination against a transgender individual because of her gender-nonconformity is sex discrimination”.
Among the many modifications, the history of mainly white women shaping the amendment is one which needs addressing if the amendment were to move forward. Wendy Hui, a senior at USC and co-president of Artemis, an organization that promotes intersectional art and media, points out: “The very first couple feminist movements are very white female-centric... there are gonna be differences between a white woman of privilege, and a black woman who doesn’t have that privilege in American society.”
Recent polls (2016 poll ERA Coalition, The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research) have shown that 96% of Americans are in support of the Equal Rights Amendment as of 2016, and roughly 3 in 4 Americans are in support of the ERA in 2020. For now, the amendment has yet to be put to a congressional vote and likely will not be until after the upcoming election.