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History of the Equal Rights Amendment

Alice Paul drafted and introduced the first Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1923, at a conference to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention. She was a Republican and one of the founders of the National Woman’s Party, which worked for the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote. After successfully gaining women’s suffrage in 1920, Paul characterized the amendment as the next logical step for the women’s movement.

Support for the amendment slowly grew, and the ERA was added to the Republican Party platform in 1940 and Democratic Party platform in 1944. In 1972, nearly fifty years after it was first introduced, the ERA passed the House and Senate with the required two-thirds majority. The amendment was then sent for ratification by three-fourths of the states with a seven-year deadline.

States initially rushed to ratify the ERA and twenty-two states ratified the amendment within the first year. Progress slowed over the years and by 1977, two years before the ratification deadline expired, only 35 of the 38 states needed had ratified. Five states rescinded their ratification, but the legal status of these rescissions is uncertain. When it became clear that the thirty-eight states needed for ratification would not occur by the 1979 deadline, legislation was passed by Congress to extend the deadline to June 30, 1982. No further states ratified during this time period and the ERA was not added to the Constitution.

Current Efforts for the Equal Rights Amendment

Since the expiration of the June 30, 1982 deadline, the Equal Rights Amendment has been introduced in every Congressional session. Senator Robert Menendez has sponsored the ERA in the Senate, and in the House, Representative Maloney has introduced a new ERA with a sentence explicitly mentioning women, followed by the text of the ERA passed in 1972.

Another current approach, led by Senator Benjamin Cardin and Congresswoman Jackie Speier proposes the removal by Congress of the ten-year deadline for ratification of the ERA, to enable ratification by the additional states needed. HJ Res 38 was the subject of a Congressional hearing in April 2019, the first in 36 years. HJ Res 38 has 194 co-sponsors, including 2 Republicans, and SJ Res 6 is proceeding on a strictly bi-partisan basis with lead co-sponsors Ben Cardin and Lisa Murkowsi, joined by Maine Senators Susan Collins and Angus King.

In 2017 the State of Nevada voted to ratify the ERA, and in 2018 the State of Illinois voted to ratify the ERA, bringing the total number of state ratifications to 37, just one short of the 38 ratifications required for the amendment to be added to the Constitution. State efforts to ratify the ERA are active in many states including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia, where in 2019 the Senate voted to ratify the ERA and the House of Delegates vote failed by just one vote. 

Update by LWVAK: 7/9/2020

There is now a trio of efforts to amend the Constitution to include equality regardless of sex. Two of those efforts involve start-over bills (HJ Res 35 & SJ Res 15). These two bills would require that the ratification process of 38 states start again after either bill passes both the House and Senate.

In contrast, the third effort (S. J. Res 6 or the ERA) involves the removal of the deadline placed arbitrarily on the 1972 version of the ERA bill.  Co-sponsored by Senators Cardin and Murkowski, this may be the quickest way to achieve the Amendment, given the Amendment has been in the works for 97 years and the bill to remove the deadline has already passed the House. This bill now has been ratified by the required number of states (38). Should the Senate pass S.J Res 6, the National Archivist will record the Amendment as part of the Constitution. This is the quickest route to enshrining equality regardless of sex in the U. S.Constitution.  It takes but an affirmative vote of the Senate, a vote to affirm the equality of all citizens and, and by doing so, affirm our democratic values.