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ERA Explainer

The Equal Rights Amendment would put protection for women and other marginalized genders directly into the United States Constitution.

Aren’t women already protected in the Constitution?

80 percent of people in the United States think that men and women are guaranteed equal rights in the U.S. Constitution. They’re wrong. One short sentence would make all the difference to ensure people protections under the Constitution, regardless of sex or gender.

The original drafters of the U.S. Constitution were all white, landholding (and many slave-holding) men. Women were never part of “the people” they envisioned in the Constitution.

Many years later the Supreme Court interpreted the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to protect women to an extent, but a special category was created for gender that offers far less protection than other protected categories like race, religion or national origin.

What is the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)?

The ERA is a very simple amendment putting protection for women and other marginalized genders directly into the United States Constitution. The entire text of the proposed amendment is:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

It’s that simple.

According to a 2016 survey commissioned by the ERA Coalition, a whopping 94 percent of people in the United States would support an amendment enshrining gender equality into the Constitution.

When the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was passed by Congress in 1972, it was the culmination of a fight that had already lasted nearly four decades—and is still far from over.

Why Wasn’t the ERA Ratified Back in the 1970s and 1980s?

When the ERA passed in 1972, the legislation included a seven-year deadline. Upon reaching the original deadline without achieving the requisite number of state ratifications, advocates for the ERA convinced Congress to extend the deadline until 1982. However, anti-ERA groups and activists ramped up their opposition during that time, successfully mobilizing factions against the ERA and stalling the momentum the movement had enjoyed throughout the country. The 1982 deadline passed with the ERA falling three states short of the 38 needed for ratification.

What Would the Impact of the ERA Be?

The ERA has a two-year enactment clause. While American life is unlikely to change overnight, but its passage would be a significant historic victory for women’s and gender equality, and provide permanent protection against laws that discriminate on the basis of sex and/or gender.

Over time, a legal precedent would need to be established using the ERA as a piece of legislation. But the bedrock principle and protections the ERA offers would be enshrined in the United States’ most basic legal document, providing a permanent and powerful tool to achieve gender equality.

Doesn’t the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment Already Offer Protection in the Constitution?

While the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment has been interpreted to protect against discrimination on the basis of sex, that understanding of the Amendment is not assured or guaranteed.

The Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868 and it was not until over a century later, in the 1970s, that the U.S. Supreme Court began to apply the Equal Protection Clause to cases of sex discrimination. However, with its 1976 ruling in Craig v. Boren, the Court found that men and women could be treated differently under the law if such treatment served an “important governmental objective” without being in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Additionally, laws like Title IX and the Equal Pay Act are not permanent protections for women and can be rescinded or replaced at any time.

With the ERA, there is no room for doubt that discrimination on the basis of sex has no place in the United States.

Is an Amendment Like the ERA Something Other Countries Have?

Yes! Among 193 UN member states, 85% have a provision in their constitution that specifically addresses gender equality, and a further 115 that have a provision that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Read more here.

What Is the ERA’s Current Status?

In 2017, Nevada became the first state in 45 years to pass the ERA, followed by Illinois in 2018 and Virginia in 2020!

Now that the necessary 38 states have ratified, Congress must eliminate the original deadline. A joint resolution was introduced in Congress currently to do just that. On 21 January 2021, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), and Congressman Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) announced the bipartisan legislation, which reads simply: 

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That notwithstanding any time limit contained in House Joint Resolution 208, 92nd Congress, as agreed to in the Senate on March 22, 1972, the article of amendment proposed to the States in that joint resolution shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution whenever ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States.

This legislation, when passed, will eliminate one of the procedural barriers standing in the way of enshrining gender equality in the U.S. Constitution. You can take action to urge Congress to eliminate the deadline.

What Is Equality Now Doing to Help Ratify the ERA?

Equality Now is committed to helping secure the ERA’s passage through Congress. We are dedicated to providing resources and forums for members of the public to learn more about this critical gap in the U.S. Constitution, and how it can be remedied.

In addition, after the three latest states to ratify the ERA – Virginia, Illinois, and Nevada – filed a case before the District Court of Columbia demanding the incorporation of the ERA into the Constitution, Equality Now joined other human rights organizations in filing an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs.

What Can You Do To Put Women In The U.S. Constitution? 

Have five minutes?

Contact your Senators and Representatives to eliminate the deadline

Have longer?

Educate yourself: Learn more about the ERA and why we need it. Listen to the Ordinary Equality Podcast hosted by Kate Kelly and produced by Wonder Media Network.

Educate others: Let others in your community know that women are still not protected under our constitution. Download this Action Sheet to share. Talk about it on social media, let your friends, family, and neighbors know that the ERA is close to ratification! Use the hashtags #ERANow and #RatifyERA

Act nationally: Join the national ERA Coalition. This is also a good way to connect to others doing work in your state.

Act locally: Although we’ve reached the 38 state threshold, it will be easier to convince Congress to enshrine this amendment in the U.S. Constitution if the remaining 12 states ratify it as well. If you live in one of the 12 states that have yet to ratify the ERA, you can get connected to local activists and support the ratification push in your state. You can also contact your state representatives and tell them that you want them to vote for the ratification of the ERA in your state: