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Government & Politics

Rallying for the ERA

President Jimmy Carter signing the extension of Equal Rights Amendment ratification on Oct. 20, 1978. National Archives photo.

Lawmakers and advocates gathered on Capitol Hill this week to push for a change in law … that many American assume has already happened, they said.

“Most Americans believe we’ve already gotten this done. But we haven’t. And we’re paying a heavy price because we have not,” U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Maryland) said at a briefing about the proposed Equal Rights Amendment on Thursday in the Russell Senate Office Building.

“We’re still on that path for equal rights for women. And we will take a giant step forward with the ratification of the ERA,” he said.

He and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are chief sponsors of a Senate resolution that would remove a ratification deadline and revive consideration of the ERA, which is just one state short of meeting the three-fourths threshold for ratification.

The amendment was first proposed in 1972.

Illinois was the most recent state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in May 2018. Nevada ratified the amendment in March 2017.

Maryland lawmakers ratified the Equal Rights Amendment in May 1972, the same year as 21 other states. Maryland also added an equal rights provision to the Maryland Constitution that year.

The remaining states that have not voted for ratification are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia.

There are active ratification efforts ongoing in each of those states, Linda Coberly, chair of the ERA Coalition Legal Task Force, said Thursday. Virginia is probably the closest to ratification, but North Carolina is also close to a vote, she said. “So if you want that place in history, you’d better get after it,” she told advocates.

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, a Democrat in the Virginia House of Delegates, underscored her passion for the amendment’s ratification.

“We must be protected by the Constitution, then we know our rights can’t be abrogated, our fate won’t be dependent upon an election, our freedoms cannot be stripped away. We know that Supreme Court decisions can always be reversed and laws can be changed whenever legislatures change their minds. That’s why we will not stop until our fundamental rights are solidified in the United States Constitution,” she said. “Women being treated equally is not a dead issue. And we are all here to remind everyone that there is no deadline for equality.”

ERAMurkowski encouraged the group assembled to rally their senators to sign on as cosponsors to the resolution, which would remove the deadline placed on the 1972 ERA and allow it to become law once the 38th state votes to ratify.

Right now, the resolution has four supporters: Cardin, Murkowski, and the senators from Maine, Susan M. Collins (R) and Angus S. King Jr. (I).

“We are doing something really radical. Oh my goodness, my soul!” Murkowski exclaimed in exaggerated sarcasm Thursday. “What we are doing is working to expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in the United States Constitution. Oh, my gosh. How radical is that?”

She paused.

“What’s crazy, in my view, is that this is 2019 and we still have not yet ratified the Equal Rights Amendment,” she said.

Both Cardin and Murkowski said the current Congress is within its right to remove the deadline imposed on the Equal Rights Amendment, a hurdle that wasn’t tacked onto other amendments in history.

“This is not an unprecedented length of time,” Cardin said, pointing to the 27th Amendment, which was the first ever proposed – in 1789 – and the most recently adopted – in 1992.

The amendment – which, it should be noted was first ratified by Maryland on Dec. 19, 1789 – prohibits members of Congress from increasing or decreasing their own salaries, requiring any changes to take effect in the next term.

“There should never be a time limit to women’s equality. We can never put a time limit on that. So let’s get that out of the way, let’s move towards full ratification and let’s finish this unfinished business,” Murkowski said.

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Rallying for the ERA