After a Short 96 Years, the Equal Rights Amendment May Pass Now
“And when I meet Thomas Jefferson, I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!”*
When I was a little girl, my mother (and my father and my grandparents) told me that I could do anything and be anyone I wanted to be, if only I gave it everything I had. I believed them, and they weren’t wrong. I do believe (and I know I am privileged in a variety of ways) that I was able to succeed because of a strong work ethic and a brain that doesn’t quit. So imagine my surprise when I found out that although my family believed that I am everything, the law does not recognize my equality. The US Constitution does not mention women AT ALL. Hence my extreme alliance with Angelica Schuyler as Lin Manuel Miranda has imagined her.
Which brings us to the topic at hand: the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the US Constitution. For anyone that needs a refresher, the ERA is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment, and other matters. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, and was first introduced in Congress in December 1923.
I know what you’re thinking: NINETEEN TWENTY THREE?? And we’re still talking about this? Yes, we are, because the original proposal didn’t go anywhere. It had to be re-introduced in 1971 to the House of Representatives by Rep. Martha Griffiths. The good news is that the House and the Senate approved the amendment; the bad news is that from there, the ERA had to be submitted to the states for ratification, as per Article V of the original US Constitution. So states start to ratify the ERA, and by 1977, 35 of the necessary 38 states have said yes, we want this. Unfortunately, not enough states ratified the ERA before Congress’ deadline of March 1979, so the ERA was never added to the Constitution.
So why has this come up again? Because Virginia just elected a Democratic state legislature, which means that there is the possibility that a thirty-eighth state, the last one required, will now be in a position to ratify the ERA and amend the US Constitution. IF Congress will extend or remove the deadline. The head of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, has already made it known that his committee will mark up a bill eliminating the deadline. I’m an “I’ll believe it when I see it” kind of woman, but as Bettina Hager, the COO of the ERA Coalition told the New York Times, “the most important part of the Equal Rights Amendment is that it is a statement of principle and permanence. This is an incredible moment for us and for all women.”
Miranda, L. (2015). Hamilton: an American Musical [MP3]. New York: Atlantic Records.