On Wednesday, with a required three-fifths vote (72-45) in the state House, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. The United States is now only one state short of guaranteeing women’s equality in the U.S. Constitution.
“I am appalled and embarrassed that the state of Illinois has not done this earlier,” said Democratic Rep. Stephanie Kifowit. “I am proud to be on this side of history and I am proud to support not only all the women that this will help, that this will send a message to, but I am also here to be a role model for my daughter.”
In April, the Illinois state Senate voted 43-12 with no debate to ratify the ERA. It was the first piece of legislation ever endorsed by the newly formed bipartisan women’s caucus.
“Every roadblock imaginable has been thrown up against the Equal Rights Amendment, yet we have persisted,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority and Feminist Majority Foundation who has been working for ERA ratification for 47 years. “Since Alice Paul first authored the ERA in 1923, generations of feminist women have struggled to make constitutional equality a reality.”
The ERA passed both houses of the U.S. Congress in 1972, and like every proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was sent to the states for ratification. The amendment lost momentum after the arbitrary ten year ratification deadline set by Congress came in 1982. The amendment was three states short of the 38 needed for ratification. But the push for the ERA has received renewed attention following the election of Donald Trump, and a year ago, Nevada became the 36th state, and the first state since 1982, to ratify the ERA.
Many Constitutional scholars believe that because the time limit is in the pre-amble of the amendment, and therefore not part of the wording voted on by the states, it is subject to an extension by a vote in Congress. Thousands demonstrated in Washington in 1978—the original ERA deadline—and Congress granted an extension until June 30, 1982. It is the only amendment to ever have a time limit placed on it.
The ERA’s passage would be far from symbolic; it will help women in cases of discrimination in education, employment, wages, insurance benefits, scholarship, military service, social security, violence against women, and more. Without the passage of the ERA, women have been forced to gain equality law by law. If the ERA is ratified by 38 states and becomes the law of land, women would be mentioned in the Constitution for the first time, and there would be a guarantee against the Supreme Court, Congress or state legislatures gutting equality on the basis of sex.
Local governments have joined the fight for ratification. In January, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously for a resolution in support of the Virginia legislature ratifying the ERA. And in 2016, the Durham City Council passed a resolution calling on the North Carolina legislature to ratify.
“The ERA has continued to gain greater and greater momentum,” continued Smeal. “Ratification efforts are proceeding and intensifying in numerous states, including Virginia, which experienced an overwhelming feminist victory in the 2017 state elections. National, state, and local efforts will persist until equality is ours!”
Media Resources: Chicago Tribune 5/31/18; Feminist Newswire 4/12/18; Feminist Majority 5/31/18