Jennifer S. Macleod, National Coordinator, the ERA Campaign Network
The sad fact is that the 1789 US Constitution granted citizens’ rights only to property-owning white males. Constitutional amendments gradually extended citizens' rights to others, including, after the Civil War, to formerly enslaved people–but still only to MALES. All women continued to be assumed “taken care of” by their fathers and then by their husbands, and not suited for independent decision-making and participation as citizens.
The 14th Amendment (1868) stated, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” but it was not intended to include women. This, together with the 15th Amendment (1870) outlawing the denial of the vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”—with the intentional omission of “sex,” was the “justification” given when in 1873 Susan B. Anthony was tried, declared guilty, and fined, for the “illegal” act of a woman casting a vote. Women remained in servitude.
It took many decades of struggle for women to win even the most basic citizen’s right, the right to VOTE, in 1920.
But that was not enough. Women were still treated, under the law, as second-class citizens in numerous and vital ways.
Alice Paul and the National Woman's Party, in 1923, therefore proposed The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which by 1943 was worded as follows: “Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article .Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”
Thanks to strong women's rights efforts, the ERA was finally passed by Congress in 1972, and sent to the states for ratification. Powerful opposition soon arose, from economic and other interests that profited mightily from discriminating against women and treating them as second-class citizens, and from people convinced that male domination of women was justified and should remain embedded in society and its laws. In spite of a 3-year extension to the original 7-year ratification time limit, the ERA achieved ratification by only 35 states – three short of the required 38: a bitter defeat.
Women continued to be forced to toil issue by issue, law by law, often state by state, to persuade male dominated legislatures and courts to affirm that women’s rights should be equal to those of men. Even when the efforts are successful, all such gains remain vulnerable and reversible, since they are not explicitly backed by the Constitution. Women still, today, have to continually struggle merely to maintain their patchwork of hard-won gains, let alone to make further progress toward full equality.
In the 1990's, a promising new strategy for achieving the ERA arose. The "Madison" Amendment, concerning congressional pay raises, became the 27th Amendment to the Constitution after a ratification period of 203 years. Also, the original 7-year ratification time limit set by the 1972 Congress was extended 3 years by a different Congress (in 1978), thus establishing the precedent that any session of Congress could further extend the time limit: just three more state ratifications would add the ERA to the Constitution! (States do not have the constitutional right to rescind ratifications once they have been achieved.) The 15 not-yet-ratified states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.
Thus the "3-state strategy" was launched, buoyed by authoritative analyses supporting its legal validity. Today, it comprises a major activist push for the ERA. Vigorous ratification drives are well underway in Illinois (which came very close to ratification in 2004), Florida and Missouri, with many of the other not-yet-ratified states rapidly building their own ratification drives.
NOW is the time for NOW-NYS members to campaign for the ERA! To connect with the nationwide ERA Campaign Network, visit www.ERACampaign.net; contact Sherry Rogers, of Brooklyn-Queens NOW, the ERA Campaign Network New York State coordinator, tel.718-263-7638, e- mail firstname.lastname@example.org; to receive the free e-mail newsletter, The ERA Campaigner, e-mail ERACampaign@aol.com. Help make the ERA HAPPEN!