On Tuesday, April 25th the Illinois state Senate will consider bill SJRCA 4, the state ratification for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution. This same day, a coalition of progressive advocates plan to march on the capital of Springfield, in the spirit of the January 21 Women’s Marches, to advocate for legislation being considered in the spring 2017 legislative session, including the ERA ratification.
The ERA states: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
The measure passed the Illinois Senate in 2014 by a vote of 39 to 11 but was never put up for a vote in the House. Supporters are hopeful that it’s hearing in the Subcommittee on Constitutional Amendments on Tuesday will once again help propel the provision forward. In order for it to be ratified by Illinois, 3/5ths of the Legislature must vote in favor.
The ERA passed both houses of the United States 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 deadline set by Congress for its passage came in 1982. The movement 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.
In March, Nevada became the 36th state and the first state since 1982 to ratify the ERA. The formalities of the ratification procedure were successfully concluded on March 22, the 45th anniversary of when the U.S. Senate approved the ERA and forwarded it to the states for ratification in 1972.
Many Constitutional scholars believe that because the time-limit is in the pre-amble of the amendment, and therefore not voted on by the states, it is subject to extension by a vote in Congress. Thousands demonstrated in Washington in 1978, and Congress granted an extension until June 30, 1982.
The ERA’s passage would be far from simply symbolic; it will help women in cases of discrimination in education, employment, wages, insurance benefits, scholarships, military service, social security, violence against women, and so much more. Without the passage of the ERA, women have been forced to gain equality law by law. If the ERA was ratified by 38 states and became the law of the land, there would be a Constitutional provision against the Supreme Court, Congress or state legislatures gutting equality on the basis of sex.
The efforts to ratify the ERA are part of a grassroots campaign strategy that rejects the time-limit on the fight for equality. In October the Durham City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the North Carolina state legislature to ratify the ERA. In addition to Nevada, North Carolina and Illinois, the 12 other states that originally failed to ratify the ERA are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.
Media Resources: Illinois Women’s March on Springfield; Illinois General Assembly; Chicago Sun Times 4/3/17; Feminist Majority Foundation