The Equal Rights Amendment


"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged
by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

In 1923, this statement was admitted to Congress under the Equal Rights
Amendment (ERA). The ERA was a proposed amendment to the United States
Constitution granting equality between men and women under the law. If the Era
was passed, it would have made unconstitutional any laws that grant one sex
different rights than the other. However, in the 1970s, the Era was not passed,
and therefore did not become law.
The idea for an equal rights amendment first became acknowledged in the
early part of the twentieth century. In 1916, Alice Paul founded the National
Women's party (NWP), a political party dedicated to establishing equal rights
for women. Traditionally, women were viewed as weaker and inferior to men. The
purpose of the ERA was to prohibit any person from acting on this belief. Alice
Paul viewed that equality under the law was the foundation essential to full
equality for women.
In November of 1922, the NWP voted to work for a federal amendment that
could guarantee women's equal rights regardless of legislatures' indecisions.
The NWP had 400 women lobbying for equality.
Despite strong opposition by some women and men, the NWP introduced and
Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1923. In order to
become law, the amendment needed a two-thirds vote in both houses of the
congress of the United States, or a supporting petition of two-thirds of the
state legislatures. Then the amendment would have required ratification by
three-fourths of the states. However, it failed to get the two-thirds majority
required to move onto the states for approval. The proposed amendment also
failed in following sessions until 1972, when it won a majority vote in Congress.

The main objectives of the women's movement included equal pay for equal
work, federal support for day-care centers, recognition of lesbian rights,
continued legalization of abortion, and the focus of serious attention on the
problems of rape, wife and child beating, and discrimination against older and
minority women. The ERA would have addressed all of these issues if it were
passed.
Had it been adopted, the ERA would have resolved the paradox of an
oppressed majority, by adding to the Constitution a provision that says no
person shall be denied any rights on the basis of sex. But ten years after
being approved by Congress, the bill died three states shy of thirty-eight
needed to ratify.
Defenders in Congress and out of Congress believe that equal rights for
women will be neither abandoned nor compromised, but supported until successful.
Some of the more conservative supporters of the ERA included Senator Strom
Thurman, President Richard Nixon, and Governor George Wallace. Today, President
Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton are also strong supporters of equal
rights for women.
At the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, the main theme was
effort to promote equal rights for women. A speaker for the United States,
Madeleine K. Albright, announced that the Clinton administration is determined
to bring down the barriers to the equal participation of women that take place
in this country. She introduced a seven-point plan of commitments that the
United States government plans to take. Although the ERA was denied in the
seventies, the new administrations are trying to introduce plans that will
exemplify equal rights for women in society.
Opposition to the ERA in the 1970s was similar in some ways to
opposition in the 1920s. Conservative politicians and organization voiced
strong opposition to the amendment. Phyllis Schlafly, one of the amendment's
most vocal opponents, founded STOP ERA, a group that worked to defeat the
amendment. "Schlafly argued that the amendment would force women to take on
roles normally reserved for the men and that equal rights meant women would give
up "privileges" of womanhood." Th ERA was also opposed by many woman who feared
the loss of alimony and of exemption of military service.
Although there is no consensus to explain the ERA's defeat, there are
several theories. "Many felt that it was a rejection of the feminist ideal of
what women ought to be, an ideal that threatened to destroy the American family
and sap the strength of a society already crippled by moral permissiveness and
political weakness and indecision." Others felt that the Church of Jesus Christ
spent great sums of money to defeat the amendment.
Equality for both men and women included the draft. Although women
wanted equality in society, they did not want to be included in the draft. One
of the most damaging