On Jan. 15, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in a House vote of 58-40, and, in the Senate, by a vote of 27-12.
The Equal Rights Amendment states, “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,” according to the Congressional Research Services. If ratified, this would make it unconstitutional to discriminate against anyone based on their sex.
“That doesn’t mean it would magically end all sex-based discrimination,” said Kristin Olbertson, associate professor of history. “It would simply give those who want to challenge such practices (firing workers for being pregnant, for example) a vehicle with which to do so.”
There is no protection for women against discrimination on a national level at this time. A case could not be brought before the courts because of this.
“The amendment, if ratified, would mean a step toward breaking the divide between the sexes in the larger world today,” said Spencer Berry (’22).
Currently, it is not in violation of the national constitution to discriminate based on sex. However, 21 states have clauses that make it illegal to discriminate against gender identity or sexual orientation in public or private areas.
“I think that people believe that discrimination does not happen because a lot of rights are protected already,” said Grace Schmidt (’22). “It’s important for people to be aware.”
For an amendment to be ratified, it first must be proposed and approved by either two-thirds of both the Senate and House of Representatives or through a special convention proposed by two-thirds of the states. It then must be ratified by two-thirds of all state legislatures which would be 38 of the 50 states.
“The deadline was established on a bipartisan basis by supporters of the ERA as a way to keep the amendment from being indefinitely tabled,” said Olbertson. “It has already been extended once and there is no constitutional or legal reason why it could not be extended again.”
The amendment was approved by Congress in 1972 and given a seven-year deadline to be ratified by the states. In the first five years, 35 states approved it and there was a two-year extension that led to the deadline being in 1982.
Since then, Nevada ratified the ERA in 2017 as well as Illinois in 2018. Then most recently, it was Virginia. All of these have occurred after the stated deadline.
“The deadline should be extended,” said Schmidt. “There should be a fair chance for it to be ratified.”
Berry agrees with this sentiment and believes that if a majority of people feel a certain way then the deadline should not matter.
While there is the chance that the deadline could be extended both the Trump administration and the Department of Justices office of legal counsel say that it could not and will not be ratified at this time. For there to be an extension, there would need to be bipartisan support.
In the past, there have been amendments that have been on the floor for years before being ratified. For example, the 27th amendment—dealing with Congress’s compensation. It was originally proposed in 1789; however, it was not ratified until 1992—over 200 years later.
The ERA was originally proposed by Alice Paul in 1923 following women gaining the right to vote. It was to guarantee that women would have the same rights as men.
“It’s important to know the history and the context to for this amendment,” said Schmidt. “You can’t understand it’s meaning without both.”
It is unclear whether the proposed amendment will be officially included at this time; however, it is a step in a direction for equality. This would provide a national protection that currently does not exist in the United States but does in other modernized countries.
“There’s never a bad time for equality,” said Olbertson. “Moreover, nations score higher on virtually every measure of well-being—family stability, childhood health, education, economic prosperity, strength of democracy, etc.—when there’s greater equality for women. Why wouldn’t we want that for our country?”