Women have been working to get equal rights protected by the US Constitution for 170 years. Too many people are unaware that women still don’t have equal rights today. What is the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and why is it catching fire now? What will it do for women and families? How can you help? North Carolinians are pushing now and pushing hard to be the final state needed to enshrine this amendment in the Constitution.
Actresses Alyssa Milano and Patricia Arquette are on board, and using their star power to bring more attention to the need for the ERA. Milano said at a press conference in DC,
“It’s 2019 and I still don’t have equal rights under the Constitution. Neither do any of you, the nearly 162 million women across the U.S. The absurdity is mind-boggling: because I have a vagina, my opportunities for equality and justice are limited.”
Without the ERA, sex discrimination is legal. There is no legal duty to treat male and female employees equally or to pay comparable wages for comparable jobs. Women and girls are suffering in areas of female poverty, female incarceration, domestic violence/sexual assault, pregnancy discrimination, reproductive healthcare, foster care & child sex trafficking, wage discrimination, and more. As Justice Antonin Scalia said in 2011,
“Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”
The ERA would protect women’s advancements, like Title IX (requiring equal opportunity in education), the Violence Against Women Act, the Fair Pensions Act, and the Paycheck Fairness Act. It would also stop such hypocrisy as when Congress voted to pay for Viagra for servicemen but opposed funding for family planning and contraception.
Learn more about what the ERA would do, and how bad things are for many women now:
- Read Ten Ways an ERA Could Make A Difference from the ERA Coalition – only 3 pages long.
- Read the short book, Equal Means Equal, by Jessica Neuwirth of ERA Coalition.
- Watch Equal Means Equal, by Kamala Lopez, which shows how women are suffering in many areas (completely different than the book). Raleigh NOW, an NC chapter of the National Organization for Women, has a copy and a discussion guide for this documentary.
The revolutionary call for equality for women started in 1848 at the nation’s first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, NY. Still, the only right guaranteed for women in the US Constitution is the right to vote, via the 19th Amendment in 1920. However, even the 19th Amendment didn’t bring that right fairly to all women when it passed. As Senator Floyd McKissick Jr (D-Durham) said at a press conference celebrating the filing of the NC ERA bills in 2019, “It has been 99 years since women obtained the right to vote in our country when the 19th amendment was ratified to our constitution. It has been 47 years since Congress sent the ERA to the states for ratification. However, we’re still fighting the battle to get it ratified today.”
Constitutional amendments must be approved by two-thirds of both the U.S. House and Senate and ratified by three-fourths of the 50 states. Congress approved the ERA in 1972, but only 35 of the 38 states needed had ratified it ahead of the deadline. Congress’ second deadline to secure the ERA expired in 1982. However, constitutional scholars believe that deadline can be changed and will not be a big problem once 38 states ratify it. Fortunately, there has been serious progress over the past two years – Nevada ratified the ERA in 2017 and Illinois in 2018. Only one more state is needed.
Real dangers posed by the Trump Administration to Title IX, Title X, and VAWA are some of the reasons movements for the ERA are progressing again. ERA advocates – local and national – like Roberta Waddle of NC NOW and Ellie Smeal of NOW and Feminist Majority, both of whom participated in the NC ERA Bill Filing Event on 3/5/19, continue the movement in NC. Also, the fight for the ERA is being brought to people anew – via books and movies like Equal Means Equal, stars like Milano and Arquette who have gotten on board to spread the word further, and articles in Refinery 29 and Cosmopolitan Magazine as well as younger leadership in the ERA movement, like Bettina Hager of DC ERA Coalition.
The Equal Rights Amendment would provide a fundamental legal remedy against sex discrimination for both women and men. It would guarantee that the rights affirmed by the U.S. Constitution are held equally by all citizens without regard to their sex. North Carolina has the opportunity to make history as the final state needed to ratify the ERA and amend the constitution. We must guarantee women equal rights under the constitution. Let’s make it happen!