Equal Rights Amendment Fails State Ratification Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Equal Rights Amendment would prohibit discrimination on account of gender. Despite winning congressional approval, the proposed amendment was not ratified by the required two-thirds majority of the states, in part because critics feared that protecting against gender discrimination would confuse gender distinctions and, therefore, legitimize homosexuality.

Summary of Event

Women won the seventy-year-battle to get voting rights with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. Feminist activists debated their next step for women’s equality. Alice Paul, a suffragist leader, suggested that equal treatment for men and women be guaranteed in the Constitution. In 1923, she wrote the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which states, simply, that, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” [kw]Equal Rights Amendment Fails State Ratification (Mar. 22, 1972-June 30, 1982) [kw]Rights Amendment Fails State Ratification, Equal (Mar. 22, 1972-June 30, 1982) [kw]Amendment Fails State Ratification, Equal Rights (Mar. 22, 1972-June 30, 1982) [kw]State Ratification, Equal Rights Amendment Fails (Mar. 22, 1972-June 30, 1982) [kw]Ratification, Equal Rights Amendment Fails State (Mar. 22, 1972-June 30, 1982) Equal Rights Amendment Gender;and Equal Rights Amendment[Equal Rights Amendment] Homosexuality;Equal Rights Amendment and [c]Government and politics;Mar. 22, 1972-June 30, 1982: Equal Rights Amendment Fails State Ratification[0890] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Mar. 22, 1972-June 30, 1982: Equal Rights Amendment Fails State Ratification[0890] [c]Feminism;Mar. 22, 1972-June 30, 1982: Equal Rights Amendment Fails State Ratification[0890] [c]Civil rights;Mar. 22, 1972-June 30, 1982: Equal Rights Amendment Fails State Ratification[0890] [c]Organizations and institutions;Mar. 22, 1972-June 30, 1982: Equal Rights Amendment Fails State Ratification[0890] [c]Religion;Mar. 22, 1972-June 30, 1982: Equal Rights Amendment Fails State Ratification[0890] Paul, Alice Celler, Emanuel Schlafly, Phyllis

The proposed ERA drove a deep wedge among former suffragists. Even though Paul’s newly formed National Woman’s Party (NWP) arranged for the amendment to be introduced into Congress by Kansas Republican senator Charles Curtis in 1923, most politically active women opposed it. They feared that it would remove laws that benefited women, especially the protective labor laws that reformers (including Paul) had worked so hard to obtain. Also, this remarkable unanimity among women’s groups showed their reluctance to venture into new and more radical solutions to women’s inequality.

For decades, only the small NWP membership worked to promote the ERA, but with little success. While both the Republican and Democratic parties voiced support for the amendment in their platforms, many members of Congress were hesitant to oppose organized labor and liberal political groups. The rise of the Civil Rights movement and the rebirth of feminism in the 1960’s breathed life into the ERA.

When Congress debated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the NWP persuaded Democratic representative Howard Smith Smith, Howard (U.S. representative) of Virginia to sponsor an amendment adding “sex” to Title VII, Title VII, Civil Rights Act[Title 07] Civil Rights Act, Title VII the section prohibiting discrimination in employment. Smith, a conservative and no friend of progressive legislation, may have intended the amendment as a joke that would emphasize the silliness of civil rights and kill the bill. However, the act passed into law along with Title VII. Protective labor laws, which typically prohibited women from holding certain jobs and from working at night, were abolished by the legislation.

With the issue of protective legislation now moot, many women’s organizations came to support the ERA, which would have been the 27th amendment to the Constitution. The National Organization for Women National Organization for Women (NOW), one year after its founding, endorsed the amendment in 1967 and took the leadership of the ERA fight from the nearly extinct NWP.

Before Congress could vote on the ERA, the bill had to pass out of committee. Emanuel Celler, a liberal New York Democrat and chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, had refused to allow a hearing on the ERA for twenty-three years. Many of Celler’s Brooklyn constituents were former garment district workers who staunchly opposed the ERA on grounds of protective legislation, and so he catered to their wishes.

In 1970, Democratic representatives Edith S. Green of Oregon and Martha W. Griffiths of Michigan outflanked Celler and freed the ERA from committee. Green held hearings on legislation to expand prohibitions against sex discrimination in education that expanded into a public discussion of general discrimination against women and the need for equal rights. Griffiths used a parliamentary maneuver to get a House vote on the ERA. On March 22, 1972, the Senate approved the ERA by a vote of 84 to 8, and it was sent to the states. Six states ratified the amendment within two days (Hawaii ratified within hours) and by the middle of 1973, the amendment seemed well on its way to adoption with 30 of the needed 38 states having ratified.

The debate over the ERA changed when passage appeared imminent, as conservatives and religious fundamentalists launched a grassroots campaign aimed at all things deemed to be unnatural and immoral. Phyllis Schlafly, founder of Stop ERA, Stop ERA portrayed the amendment as a threat to “family values” "Family values"[family values];and Equal Rights Amendment[Equal Rights Amendment] and traditional relationships between men and women. She saw women not as equals to men but as a gendered class that enjoyed certain protections and differential treatment. She argued that the ERA would permit men to evade their special responsibilities as men, such as being drafted into the military, and would allow women to escape their destiny as mothers. She added that the ERA would erase sexual differences and thereby legitimize homosexuality. (Schlafly’s eldest son, John Schlafly, Schlafly, John an attorney who works with his mother’s Eagle Forum, was outed as gay in 1992.)

When it seemed apparent that the ERA would not meet the 1979 deadline for ratification, supporters gained an extension from Congress until June 30, 1982. No other proposed amendment has ever received an extension. The exception did not help the ERA.

Significance

Many reasons exist for the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment, most important, the inability of its supporters to realize the strength of the opposition. The conservative movement in the United States had been growing, partly as a backlash to the lesbian and gay and women’s rights movements of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The defeat of the ERA demonstrated the political power of conservatism.

Some analysts blamed the amendment’s defeat on the prominence of lesbians within the women’s movement. Conservatives had made reference to “homosexuals” and homosexuality to argue that the legislation would mandate sameness between the sexes and therefore absurdity and danger. Fears were also raised that the ERA would permit gays and lesbians to legally marry and even to adopt children. However, primarily, the defeat involved two clashing world views and belief systems.

The social base of feminism grew after the defeat of the amendment, partially because of the defeat. The new feminists of the 1960’s and 1970’s mobilized a mass movement to promote the amendment and then continued to use that mass to promote other goals. The effort to remove inequality has been slow and often piecemeal, however, whereas an amendment to the Constitution would have offered immediate protection to each citizen of every state, regardless of gender. Equal Rights Amendment Gender;and Equal Rights Amendment[Equal Rights Amendment] Homosexuality;Equal Rights Amendment and

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berry, Mary Frances. Why ERA Failed: Politics, Women’s Rights, and the Amending Process of the Constitution. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hoff-Wilson, Joan, ed. Rights of Passage: The Past and Future of the ERA. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mathews, Donald G., and Jane Sherron De Hart. Sex, Gender, and the Politics of ERA. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Phelan, Shane. Sexual Strangers: Gays, Lesbians, and Dilemmas of Citizenship. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rimmerman, Craig A., Kenneth D. Wald, and Clyde Wilcox, eds. The Politics of Gay Rights. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Steiner, Gilbert Y. Constitutional Inequality: The Political Fortunes of the Equal Rights Amendment. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute, 1985.

May 1, 1970: Lavender Menace Protests Homophobia in Women’s Movement

May 1, 1970: Radicalesbians Issues “The Woman Identified Woman” Manifesto

January 22, 1973: Roe v. Wade Legalizes Abortion and Extends Privacy Rights

June 27, 1974: Abzug and Koch Attempt to Amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964

July 3, 1975: U.S. Civil Service Commission Prohibits Discrimination Against Federal Employees

1977: Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights

1978: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Movement Is Founded

November 7, 1978: Antigay and Antilesbian Briggs Initiative Is Defeated

September 21, 1996: U.S. President Clinton Signs Defense of Marriage Act

December 20, 1999: Baker v. Vermont Leads to Recognition of Same-Gender Civil Unions

November 18, 2003: Massachusetts Court Rules for Same-Gender Marriage

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