Yesterday the Illinois State Senate voted 43-12 with no debate to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The initiative now heads to the Illinois House, where advocates warn passage is not a “slam-dunk.” While both chambers have approved the ERA in the past, it has never cleared both the Senate and the House in the same legislative session.
All 12 of the nay votes came from Republicans, and all but one woman Senator voted to ratify. It is the first piece of legislation ever endorsed by the newly formed bipartisan women’s caucus.
“I think voting to ratify the ERA helps give voice to (the women of the #MeToo movement) and say, ‘We hear you, we are with you and we agree,” said Senator Healther Steans. “It’s high time we provide equal rights to women across the country.”
Like many state Capitols across the country, Illinois’ has faced multiple sexual harassment allegations against lawmakers and top aides. This week, they began newly required training aimed at combatting sexual harassment and discrimination.
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.
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 the land, there would be a Constitutional provision 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 state legislature to ratify.
Media Resources: Chicago Tribune 4/12/18; Feminist Newswire 4/24/17, 1/25/18