On Wednesday, Virginia’s House of Delegates and state Senate passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), more than 37 years after the deadline for its ratification. Virginia became the 38th state to pass the amendment, which required 38 states to become part of the U.S. Constitution. Activists are likely to push for Congress to extend the deadline and have it enshrined in law. If the amendment becomes part of the Constitution, it could force women to register for the draft, require government funding for abortion, and bolster the transgender movement’s push against sex-segregated restrooms.
“Women have waited decades to see the ERA pass, and this is the perfect way to kick of 2020, a year that celebrates 100 years of women’s voting rights,” Chris Carson, president of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States, said in a statement. “It’s time for Congress to remove the ERA deadline and make this dream a reality.”
Feminists pushed the ERA in the 1960s and it passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 1971 and the U.S. Senate in 1972. The amendment went to the state legislatures for ratification, requiring the approval of 38 states to become enshrined in the Constitution.
Congress had set the ratification deadline for March 22, 1979. Through 1977, 35 states approved it. Phyllis Schlafly mobilized conservative women in opposition, claiming that the ERA would disadvantage housewives, cause women to be drafted, threaten protections such as alimony, and eliminate the tendency for mothers to obtain custody over their children in divorce cases. Five state legislators (Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Tennessee) voted to revoke their ratifications, but it remains an unresolved legal question as to whether a state can revoke its ratification.
In 1978, Congress passed and President Jimmy Carter signed a resolution to extend the deadline to June 30, 1982. No new state ratified the ERA before that deadline. In 2017, Nevada ratified the amendment. Illinois followed in 2018. Virginia’s House of Delegates passed the amendment 59-41 on Wednesday.
The amendment’s language appears straightforward: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Inez Stepman, a senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), warned against the ERA in a recent New York Post op-ed.
“American women are living the freest, most prosperous lives in human history. The Constitution protects their right to speak, worship, vote, bear arms and more. The female jobless rate is at a historic low, and women own the majority of wealth in the country, along with earning the lion’s share of higher degrees,” she noted. “Women are perfectly capable of flexing political power: They make up the majority of voters in nearly every election. Sex discrimination is already forbidden under both federal and state laws, as well as by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The ERA won’t add to those protections, but could be used to impose sex-sameness.”
“Men and women are different physically, psychologically and emotionally,” she noted. “And while often those differences aren’t relevant, sometimes they matter a great deal, including in situations where women’s safety can be placed at risk if they are treated exactly like men.”
The ERA’s broad language and the fact that it would be added to existing anti-discrimination laws open up the possibility that radicals will use it to foist radical proposals on Americans. Courts in New Mexico and Connecticut used state-level ERAs to require government funding for abortion.
Feminists would be premature to celebrate Virginia’s ratification of the amendment. If states can ratify the amendment after the deadline, then other states should be allowed to rescind their ratifications. In any case, expect a long battle about this.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.