Most Americans have heard of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). What most Americans do not realize is that the ERA did not pass and is not a part of the U.S. Constitution. How can this be when between 91 percent to 96 percent of American adults polled believe that men and women should have equal rights, and 72 percent already think that men and women have equal rights guaranteed by the Constitution (ERA Survey)? How can this be when the U.S. imposed the ERA language on other countries in 1945 and encouraged it in its foreign assistance in all the former Soviet Union countries in the 1990s? How can this be when the Republicans were the first to endorse the ERA in the party platform in the 1940s with the Democrats shortly following suit?
Yet it remains that America is one of few countries that does not guarantee women equal protection of rights under the Constitution. In fact, corporations received equal rights under the 14th Amendment before women did. U.S. Supreme Court justices have made it clear that the Constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “If I could choose an amendment to add to the Constitution, it would be the Equal Rights Amendment. I think we have achieved that through legislation, but legislation can be repealed, it can be altered. So I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion — that women and men are persons of equal stature — I’d like them to see that is a basic principle of our society.”
The ERA was born in 1923 after women won the right to vote. It was introduced every year in Congress until finally, in 1972, the ERA was passed by Congress and by 1984 ratified by 35 states of the 38 needed. The ERA is the only proposed amendment that had an expiration date on it – a practice many challenge. Since then, it continues to be introduced in Congress every year and a new movement has arisen to see it passed by 2020 because there still is an urgent need for the ERA in today’s society.
The ERA will help improve the lives of men and women by making equality a Constitutional principle as well as a law, as it is now in some areas. The U.S. falls behind many other countries in measures of women’s equality from the number of parliamentarians to maternal deaths to response to domestic violence. The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights found recently in the Jessica Gonzales case that the U.S. violated the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man by failing to protect victims of domestic violence.
Currently women make on average 83 cents on the dollar compared to men performing the same job. Women also are less likely to have benefits at work such as insurance and pensions. These are only a few examples of how the ERA will improve the lives of all American citizens now and in the future.
Arizona did not pass the ERA in the 1980s. In fact, the state donated $10,000 of taxpayer money to the Mountain States Defense Fund to defeat the ERA. But women in Arizona still demand equality. State Rep. Rebecca Rios will be introducing the ERA again this year. It has been introduced many past years but leadership refused to assign it to a committee, let alone have a hearing. The women of Arizona deserve better. Arizona was once a beacon for women’s rights. Women could vote in Arizona in 1912, and Rachael Berry, from Apache County, was the first woman legislator elected in Arizona in 1914 before women in the rest of the country could even vote. Isabel Greenway was Arizona’s first congresswoman and only representative from 1933-1935. Arizona holds the record for the most women governors (four, three in a row) and having women hold all state offices at the same time (1998). The first woman appointed to the Supreme Court came from here. Arizona needs to reclaim its place in the march toward equality by ratifying the ERA today and moving toward that day that all discrimination will end.
— Dianne Post is a Phoenix attorney and Kaitlin Ford is an intern for NOW.