In the United States of America, women are still not equal to men in the eye of the U.S. Constitution. This is because the Constitution fails to include language that guarantees equal rights for all citizens, regardless of their gender. The Equal Rights Amendment, first introduced in 1923, aimed to correct that. But nearly a century has gone by and lawmakers have failed to advance this constitutional amendment.
That might change with the 116th Congress.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group launched a new push to fight for the passage of the ERA. The effort has two key components: restart the ratification process and getting rid of a decades-old deadline that could hinder its progress.
The endeavor is led by Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Tom Reed, who are sponsoring legislation to restart the amendment’s ratification process; Rep. Jackie Speier, who introduced a joint resolution to remove the ratification deadline; and Sens. Ben Cardin and Lisa Murkowski, who introduced a companion joint resolution to Speier’s.
“On multiple fronts today – in the White House and in State houses across our county –women’s hard-fought rights and the progress that we’ve made over the course of a century are under attack,” Maloney said in a statement provided to Refinery29. “And it’s happening, in part, because our Constitution does not contain the word ‘women.’ Because it does not guarantee our equal rights. So, we need to make it clear, that equal means equal. To do that, we must spell it out in the Constitution: E-R-A. This will make a world of difference to all our children. Shouldn’t we eliminate any doubt that men and women are equal? Shouldn’t equality be the default, the inalienable truth? Now is the time. We are demanding a seat at the table and we are ready to make equality a reality.”
After half a century, Congress finally approved the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 and lawmakers settled on a seven-year period for state legislatures to vote on it, a deadline which was then extended by three more years. At the time, however, only 35 states legislatures voted to approve the amendment by 1982 — just three states short of the 38 needed to ratify any changes to the Constitution. Nevada and Illinois have joined the effort since then, for a total of 37 states. Virginia could have been the 38th state, but a Republican-controlled state House committee nixed the effort last week.
“In order for the ERA to be incorporated into the Constitution, we need 38 states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. As of now, we have 37,” Murkowski said in a statement to Refinery29. “The Equal Rights Amendment is as important in the fight for women’s equality as it was on April 5, 1972, when Alaska ratified. Women’s equality is fundamental to the American way of life and needs to be expressly recognized in the Constitution.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who first joined the House in 1995, emphasized that the tine is long overdue for the ERA to be ratified. “Ever since I came to Congress I’ve supported [Rep.] Carolyn Maloney and the Equal Rights Amendment,” she told Refinery29 at Rep. Maxine Waters’ Millennial Media Row event on Tuesday. “Now, it’s a recognition that we won’t be stopped. Let’s pass it and say that there’s no space between the rights of all human beings and the rights of women under the laws of the United States of America.”
First-term Rep. Lizzie Fletcher told Refinery29 she's been inspired by the renewed interest in passing the ERA. “We know there are still hurdles that women face in achieving equality — from healthcare and access to reproductive care to access to good paying jobs and making sure that you’re being paid the same wages for the same work,” she said. “It’s exciting to see women and men committed to make sure we have access to our full rights.”
Like Fletcher, freshman Rep. Lauren Underwood belongs to a generation of women who were not even born the last time Congress had a chance at ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. When asked about the prospect of the 116th Congress helping get the job done, Underwood didn’t waste words: “It’s time.”