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A Blast From the Past - the E.R.A.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: This is reposted from blogher.org.]


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.

Lost in the blogosphere brouhaha last week in the matter of Kathy Sierra, was an announcement that federal and state lawmakers are launching a new drive to pass the Equal Rights Amendment proposed in 1972. What a blast from the past.

Those of us who lobbied for passage in those days remember Eagle Forum leader, Phyllis Schlafly, charging that if it were added to the Constitution, women would be drafted into the military and be forced to use unisex rest rooms in public establishments.

So much for that argument: women choose to join the military nowadays and use unisex facilities without blinking an eye. So Ms. Schlafly’s new argument against the amendment is that its passage will force courts to approve same-sex marriage (horrors!) and deny Social Security benefits to housewives and widows.

Legal scholars say it is hard to predict how the amendment, now renamed the “Women’s Equality Amendment,” would be interpreted by the courts, although some say it would make it possible for women to sue for equal pay and other benefits.

Others argue against passage on the grounds of Constitutional redundancy – that women are already protected from discrimination by the 14th Amendment which refers to “all persons.”

The amendment has 194 co-sponsors in the House, ten in the Senate, and no longer contains a deadline for ratification. Rep. Lindsley Smith (D – Ark) has vowed to bring the Amendment for a vote when the next legislature convenes in 2009, which allows a lot of a time for public discussion.

A two-thirds vote of both Houses of Congress are required to send the Amendment to the states for ratification. Three-quarters of the states (38) are required for passage.

[PICKY LANGUAGE USAGE NOTE: As to the almost archaic phrase "on account of sex," when the Equal Rights Amendment was written, the word "sex" was still used to denote biological difference - that is, male or female of a species. "Gender" referred to grammatical categories such as masculine, feminine, neuter of which there are up to 20 in some languages. During the past 35 years, "gender" has come to be used in place of "sex" to refer to biological difference as in "gender gap" while "sex" is most frequently used to mean the physical act.

Definitions of words change over time as new or different usages are adopted. It amuses me that as our language in other respects, during the same period, has become more vulgar (example - when I was a teenager, "gang bang" referred to group rape of a woman and I am frequently startled these days to hear someone referred to as a "gangbanger" which has nothing to do with rape), the sex/gender usage appears to be an attempt to sound more genteel.]


Yes, word use changes. That is one of the reasons that I am reluctant to pin all of my legal hopes upon the 14th amendment. Someone is sure to argue over the definition of "person". After all, if I recall correctly, the purpose of a census is to count people and at one time a slave counted as a fraction of a person. Others argue that a fetus is a person. What's a woman to do?

Somehow I simply cannot get excited about this. I have come to the conclusion that a lot of things cannot be legislated. Discrimination is still rampant in this country in many areas and there are already laws in laws in place that are supposed to prevent it and don't. Anyone who files an EEOC complaint is labeled a troublemaker and is discriminated against for it. I'm no longer naive enough to believe that a Constitutional Amendment will make a damned bit of difference. My take is that the Constitution is, these days, a case of no apparent interest as we have people in Congress and the Executive branch who blithely ignore it daily and somehow I doubt a new amendment would change anything. Have I become cynical as I approach 60? Hell, yeah!!! And I have done so with good reason.

I'm just so glad to see this. And too, I note that someone Ms. Schlafly’s has hired is adaptable to modern conventions and is able to change their arguement with the times.

I think they should up date the proposed amendment's language from "sex" to "gender" based on usage of the words now and as we understand them.

Would be interesting to know what positions, if publically known, any of our current Supreme Court Justices held on the ERA years ago.

Didn't I read somewhere that "All men are created equal," yet that didn't seem to be enough to insure equal rights for all races. Some messages have to be restated more than once and in differing ways, so I hardly find Ms. Schlafly's argument of redundancy sufficient grounds for rejection of this amendment.

Just because inequities may continue, as they have on other issues, I, personally, refuse to stop knocking on the doors to bring about change.

Legislation may not solve the inequality problem, but with a law on the books it gives teeth to the issue. Once women have legal right to equal pay for equal work they can sue for discrimination if they are denied that right. Now all we can do is complain. After a few successful law suits society's attitude will gradually change. I am for the Amendment.

Side issue on the changing meaning of words: My daughter recoiled in horror when she heard me refer to a 'zit' as a 'hicky'. That's what we called the bane of teenagers when I was one. When did the meaning change without my noticing it?

Thank you, Roni, for this post. I was in my late teens and early 20's, when I lobbied for the ERA. I lived in the D.C. area, so I made more than a few visits to Capital Hill, marched in demonstrations, participated in forums and wrote articles. I look back on those days fondly.

I was devastated when the ERA didn't go through, but was reminded that the state I was living in didn't even ratify the right for women to vote until some ridiculous year...like the 1960's or something.

I'll be following this with interest.

Darlene--I am 69. As a teenager, a "hickey" was the result of another person's applying oral suction to one's neck.

Ronni--Yes, I, too, cringe when I hear the word "gangbanger". Gang rape isn't to be kidded around about!

Joared--Lest "sex" and "gender" become transmuted once more, how about specifying rights as not being denied or abridged by the distribution of one's X and/or Y chromosomes?

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