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100 Years in the Making: One Step Closer to the ERA

Every time I walk to the kitchen in our office, I pass a door adorned with the Suffragette flag and the words, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?” While next year is the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, the passage of a constitutional amendment—known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)—that enshrines equality for all regardless of sex or gender, has faced obstacles since 1923.

The possibility of its passage has been renewed by the outcome of the Virginia Legislature elections in 2019, with many legislators declaring their intent to ratify the ERA. Virginia’s ratification would make it the 38th and final state needed for this constitutional amendment to become a reality. However, unlike many other of our other constitutional amendments, the ERA had a deadline for ratification of 1979 (and then extended by Congress to 1982). But hope is not lost—this past Wednesday, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee ruled 21-11 to remove the ratification deadline and now the resolution moves to the House floor for a vote.

Inside the House Judiciary Committee hearing to remove the ratification deadline, I could feel the excitement in the air. The room was packed; women were wearing purple sashes that read, “Ratify the ERA” or “ERA Yes”; and folks were talking pictures, abuzz to be witnessing the historic moment. The positive commentary lauded Jackie Speier for introducing this resolution and recognized the amendment’s history of bipartisan support. It also acknowledged that while we have federal and state legislation that bars discrimination on the basis of sex, systemic issues in our society persist such as pay inequity, workplace harassment, violence against women, and disparate healthcare costs and treatment. The negative commentary discussed the fact that the deadline has passed and suggested ratification by states should start all over. In addition, those persons felt that this amendment would provide a constitutional right to abortion. Chairman Nadler (D-NY) pointed out that if the ERA implies a constitutional right to abortion, then true equality means a right to make reproductive choices for one’s own body. At the sentiment that this bill was “anti-female,” the laughter in the audience was audible.

When the final votes were called, clapping and cheering filled the room. Chairman Nadler had to repeatedly ask the audience to quiet down, although he did it with a smile.

The League of Women Voters fully supports S.J. Res. 6 and H.J. Res 79, the joint resolutions that eliminate the deadline for ratification of the ERA and we continue to work with our members, interested organizations, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill to move toward final ratification of the ERA. While legislation that prohibits discrimination is important, legislation can be easily removed, unlike a constitutional amendment. If we are a country that truly believes that each individual has the same rights regardless of sex or gender, then there should be no hesitation or qualms in passing the ERA. Our values, principles, and unalienable rights are enshrined in our Constitution, a concept we rightly tout. What we choose to include in our Constitution speaks to the society we are and want to become.

It’s been almost 100 years we have been waiting and working for this amendment, let’s not wait 100 more. By passing the ERA, we can firmly and resolutely declare that we believe in equality for all.