It's easy to keep the ERA conversation going. Ask your friends what they know about it. Are they among the 80 percent of Americans who think we already have guaranteed equal rights under the Constitution? Do they think the amendment is a dusty relic of second-wave white feminism? Why not spark a conversation by telling them that passing the ERA would be like protecting your rights with a Constitutional IUD?
IUDs are great. They're a set-it-and-forget-it option for folks who want to protect themselves. Why not get an IUD for your rights, too? Enshrining equal rights in the Constitution helps ensure one little oversight — like a law being repealed or a SCOTUS swing voter retiring — won't mean you're stuck carrying around fewer rights for the rest of your life.
Use #IUDmyrights to tell your friends why you support the ERA and the fight for equal rights.
So you've listened to our episode about the ERA and checked out the sources. If you need a few more details — or a resource roundup you can show your friends — we've got you covered.
Q: Don't we already have an ERA?
A: In a 2016 poll (by pro-ERA groups Fund for Women's Equality and ERA Coalition, FYI), 80 percent of respondents thought we already had guaranteed equal rights in the Constitution. Unfortunately, they're mistaken. The battle to enshrine equal rights in the Constitution started in 1923. After decades of bipartisan, mainstream support, progress faltered. In 1982, the Equal Rights Amendment fell three states short of the 38 states needed to ratify it. In other words? Gender equality is not guaranteed in the Constitution. But there's some good news: In May 2018, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify. That leaves one state to go.
Q: Who supports the ERA?
A: Lots of folks! In that same 2016 poll, 94 percent of respondents said they were all for the amendment. Even if that number's a little inflated, it echoes the long history of bipartisan support the ERA has received. In the 1940s, both Republicans and Democrats added the ERA to their platforms, and presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter backed it. Today, we can thank women like New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who's introduced the ERA in Congress every session for the past 11 sessions, for keeping equality at the top of the to-do list.
Q: Who doesn't support the ERA?
A: A vocal minority of social and religious conservatives. The ERA was on track to become a reality in the early 1980s until HBIC Phyllis Schlafly and her Eagle Forum derailed it. Downplaying her own legal career and political ambitions, Schlafly donned her Sunday best to appeal to housewives and mothers, telling them the ERA would erase any and all gender distinctions. Her main fearmongering talking points? Women will be drafted and sent to warzones; they'll no longer receive child support or alimony; the abortion floodgates will open; same-sex marriage will become a reality; and we'll all be subjected to unisex bathrooms. Nowadays, abortion and blurring gender lines are the main fears — a direct line to Schlafly's expert media manipulation.
Q: I thought the ERA had bipartisan support ...?
A: Totally! The amendment enjoyed widespread, mainstream, bipartisan support when it gained steam in the 1970s, but Phyllis Schlafly's activism proved to be the turning point for many conservative Republicans. The party removed the Equal Rights Amendment from its platform in 1980, the same year Ronald Reagan became president. Today, the efforts to block ERA ratification largely come from the right. For instance, in April 2018, Arizona Republicans blocked ratification ... ON EQUAL PAY DAY. Two months earlier, Republican leaders in Virginia had refused to even hold hearings on it. But listen, it's lazy and far from accurate to say Republicans across the board oppose the ERA. Not even all Democrats think we need it. But today, some of the loudest voices of opposition are coming from socially conservative folks on the right who echo Schlafly's fears about free abortion on demand and the blurring of gender lines. When Nevada ratified the ERA in 2017, Republican Sen. Joseph Hardy said he voted against it in the interest of protecting traditional family structures and "celebrating the differences of our God-given genders.”
Q: Aren't women already protected in the Constitution?
A: Short answer, yes, to an extent. The 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause bars sex-based discrimination, and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits such discrimination at work. In 1972, Title IX amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 to block sex discrimination in schools. We also have the Violence Against Women Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and a whole patchwork of other local, state and national protections that are unevenly enforced.
Q: So ... what's the problem?
A: The ERA is to our rights what an IUD is to our uterus. Executive orders can be made and unmade. Laws can be overturned. Courts' attitudes can change. Swing voters on the Supreme Court bench can retire. Y'all, our abortion and marriage equality rights could very well end up on the chopping block. Do you really want to trust an employer, your lawmakers, Trump or a soon-to-be-even-more-conservative Supreme Court with your rights? Hell, no! An amendment makes equal rights between women and men the law of the land, which can, for instance, help put an end to discriminatory hiring and payment practices.
13 Unratified States
If you live in Hawaii, be proud: Your state was the first to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment back in 1972, just 32 minutes after Congress passed the amendment. By the end of the year, 21 other states had surfed their way to supporting equal rights. But when the BS Congressional ratification clock ran out on June 30, 1982, only 35 states had ratified the ERA.
The tide has begun to turn. Thanks to a Democratic-controlled Congress with a critical mass of 40 percent women, Nevada passed the ERA in March 2017, becoming No. 36. Illinois followed suit in May 2018.
The lack of a Constitutional amendment doesn't mean there aren't some protections. Twenty-three states, including Florida, Louisiana, Utah and Virginia, have passed equal-rights-style amendments in their constitutions. But state-level protections don't rise to the level of a consistent, law-of-the-land federal policy.
We all have some work to do to push our lawmakers on the issue. And heads up, Virginia voters: Y'all have come super close to ratifying recently. Keep up the pressure and make this a midterm election issue for your legislators.
Clicking on your state (left) will take you to your legislature's website. And for the lucky few whose states have women's caucuses or committees (with actual websites), try taking your concerns directly to them:
Learn More About the ERA
Cristen narrated a Focus On episode about the birth of the ERA.
The Alice Paul Institute's ERA hub is outrageously comprehensive.
To wrap your brain around why the pro-ERA efforts of the 1970s and early 80s failed, this paper can't be beat.
The National Organization for Women has some great resources and action plans.