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Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed, but as yet unratified, amendment to the United States Constitution, that would guarantee equal rights under law for both sexes. It reads "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." It then gives Congress authority over all issues relating to gender: "The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."

Three years after the ratification of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in Congress for the first time. For decades, it was entered into each session of Congress but rarely received floor time and was usually bogged down in committee. In 1972, the amendment was finally approved by Congress and presented to the states for ratification. Initially the pace of ratifications was quick, but it then began to slow. Congress had set a seven year deadline for ratification, and by the end of the deadline in 1979 only 35 of the 38 required states had ratified. Congress then extended the ratification deadline until 1982, but no further states ratified and by then several states had rescinded their earlier ratification.

The political climate changed in the late 1970s, and the Republican Party withdrew its earlier bipartisan support for the ERA. Political opposition to the ERA was led by Phyllis Schlafly[?], a conservative Republican. The ERA would have granted more power to Congress and the federal courts, at a time when public opposition to judicial activism was growing.

Supporters of the ERA have reintroduced it into Congress every year since 1982, but without success. Some opponents of the ERA argue that if reintroduced, it would need to regain the 35 ratifications all over again, plus the additional three still lacking. Supporters argue that the earlier 35 ratifications are still valid, and that only three more are necessary; some supporters go further and say that the remaining three ratifications could come after the deadline set by Congress, and then be recognized by Congress retroactively. They claim the passage of the 27th Amendment over 200 years after it was first proposed supports this strategy. But there is a crucial difference: unlike ERA, the bill proposing the 27th Amendment did not set a deadline for ratification, nor has its addition to the Constitution ever been established by the courts. The Supreme Court declared ERA to have irrevocably expired by dismissing a challenge to its extension as moot after the second deadline.

Opponents of the amendment argue that its passage would have far-reaching implications, obliterating sensible distinctions between gender. Women would be required to register for the Selective Service System[?] (the draft) just as men currently do, and serve in combat just as men do. The amendment would also remove laws that specially protect women, such as labor laws in heavy industry. Some states have ordered taxpayers to pay for abortions by women based on a state equal rights amendment, under the theory that women must have full health care as men do. Gay marriage could be ordered by courts based on ERA, as Hawaii did based on its state equal rights amendment. Single sex schools or sports teams could be ordered to be integrated on the theory that men and women must be treated alike under ERA, as a Washington state court ordered a fraternal civic organization to admit women.

In the one and only Reagan-Carter debate, shortly before the 1980 election, the candidates were asked to state their positions. Reagan said that Carter should have fixed specific laws that he felt were discriminatory. Carter stated his support for the ERA, which would then allow the judges to interpret it however they liked.

Despite the failure of ERA to be ratified, proponents have claimed some level of success as women have made significant inroads into fields traditionally dominated by men. That means ERA is less justified today than in the 1970s.

See also: Legal aspects of transsexualism



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