The Equal Rights Amendment

For women the only constitutionally guaranteed equal right is the right to vote. There is nothing in the constitution that has been interpreted to give women equal rights with men.

In 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was first proposed by Alice Paul, a leader in the woman suffrage movement. It was originally called the Lucretia Mott Amendment after the abolitionist and women’s right advocate. It was introduced in Congress in the same year and read: "Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

In 1925, the Santa Cruz Sentinel warned: "But it is believed that there are a good many women who do not know what the effect would be on them if this equal rights amendment should pass. It is believed that they do not know that it would take away from them many rights they now have—for example, the eight-hour law for women in California."

The ERA would mean that consideration of sex would be treated in the same way as  race, religion, and national origin.

The ERA would mean equal rights regardless of sex, so in fact men would gain crucial rights too, particularly in the area of family law.

In 1943, Alice reworded the text into the key Section 1 of the ERA (now called the “Alice Paul Amendment”) that was eventually sent to the states for ratification in 1972.

The resolution, “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to equal rights for men and women,” reads in part:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission by the Congress


“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.

“Sec. 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

“Sec. 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”

In 1972, 22 states had ratified the ERA including California. By 1977, the legislatures of 35 states had approved the amendment. In 1978, Congress voted to extend the original March 1979 deadline to June 30, 1982. However, no additional states voted yes before that date, and the ERA fell three states short of ratification.

The 15 states that did not ratify the Equal Rights Amendment before the 1982 deadline were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.

In 2017, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify it, followed by Illinois in 2018.

As of today, (October 2020), 38 states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. The last being Virginia earlier this year. And in February, the US House of Representatives voted 232-182 to pass HJ Res 79, the joint resolution to remove the original time limit assigned to the Equal Rights Amendment.

However, five states, Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky, and South Dakota, have voted to rescind or withdraw their ratification. It remains unclear if states can rescind a ratification.

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