The push for the decades-old Equal Rights Amendment continued Thursday morning at a Capitol Hill briefing hosted by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in which they outlined what many advocates see as the next step to final ratification: removing the Congressional deadline.
The senators are co-sponsors of Senate Joint Resolution 6, which, if passed in tandem with Rep. Jackie Speier's House Joint Resolution 38, would remove the deadline, leading to a clear path for ratification of the ERA, which aims to amend the constitution to provide equal protection under the law regardless of sex. Advocates say the ERA will strengthen equal pay and anti-discrimination laws already in existence, as well as solidify women's rights in the Constitution so that they can't be rolled back by the whims of legislators or a change in the courts.
"We are doing something really radical," Sen. Murkowski said sarcastically in her opening remarks at Thursday morning's briefing. "What's crazy, in my view, is this is 2019, and we still have not yet ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. We've got a little bit of work to do in reminding members [of Congress] that this is unfinished business. The way to do this is to get good, strong bipartisan support."
The ERA first passed in 1972 after 50 years of advocacy. In conjunction, Congress also passed a deadline for state ratification — to amend the U.S. Constitution, 38 out of 50 state legislatures must approve the amendment — by 1978. The original deadline was extended to 1982, but ultimately the amendment stalled there with it passing in 35 states. More recently, though, a resurgent movement has achieved startling victories, getting state ratifications in Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018. Last year, the Virginia Assembly was essentially one vote away from ratifying it, giving new hope to advocates of realizing a feminist dream that's nearly 100 years in the making.
Many advocates believe that it's not a matter of if, but when the 38th state will ratify the ERA, with Virginia being the most likely target in 2020. Although the amendment was blocked by Republican leadership last session, this year is an election year in Virginia, and activists on the ground are already working to oust those who have been unsupportive of constitutional equality for women, says Kati Hornung, the campaign coordinator of VA ratify ERA.
In Virginia, there is strong bipartisan support for the amendment among voters: 81% of all voters, including 69% of Republicans, want ratification, according to a recent survey by the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy. "The split is with the elected officials, not with day-to-day Republican voters," Hornung, who describes herself as a fourth-generation Republican-turned-Independent.
Arizona is another state that could help the movement reach 38, and advocates there say they face similar problems with high support among voters regardless of party, but less support among Republican legislators. "We have had some success during the 2019 legislative session in Arizona securing five Republican co-sponsors: four in the Senate and one in the House," says Rebecca McHood, a volunteer with ERA Task Force AZ. "None of these co-sponsors were willing to break with the party-line votes to suspend the rules to hear and vote on the ERA bills during floor sessions. One co-sponsor removed his name after being threatened with an anti-ERA primary challenger."
The ERA Coalition is working hard to bring moderate Republican women into the cause. "The inclusion of the ERA in the U.S. Constitution will benefit all women, including, of course, Republican women. Republican women face discrimination in employment and legal access, just like all women," Susan Bevan, a lifelong Republican and the former head of Republican Majority for Choice, tells Refinery29. Bevan also spoke at Thursday's briefing. "As a Republican, this matters to me because I see the party diminishing across the country and becoming a regional party with restrictive social views and little fiscal responsibility. I believe the Republican Party must show their support for economic growth by ensuring that women have equal access to the opportunities that our country provides."
Nationwide, 94% of voters polled said they supported a constitutional amendment for women's equality, with 90% of Republicans saying the same, according to polling done by the ERA Coalition in 2016. The only question that remains is whether legislators, Democrats and Republicans, will listen to their constituents. Sen. Murkowski closed out her remarks with a call to action: Call your Senators and tell them to sign onto her resolution. "We need your help. We need you to take a look at who has signed on as a co-sponsor. Right now, the list is pretty skinny," she said. "But go down the list of states that have already ratified. Look to see if your senators have signed on as co-sponsors."