Women in Congress Reignite the Fight for the Equal Rights Amendment

Several U.S. Congresswomen, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), kicked off Women’s History Month last week with a special House session dedicated to renewing Congressional interest in passing the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and underscoring the importance of its ratification by states nationwide.

Taking advantage of a congressional practice that allows members to speak on any topic they wish after official House business has adjourned for the day, the women present—including Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Gwen Graham (D-FL) and Jackie Speier (D-CA)—called for the ERA’s urgent passage. They cited issues affecting women, including fair pay, sex and pregnancy discrimination, and reproductive rights, as reasons it should be quickly passed.

This “special order” practice offers minority House members an opportunity to draw attention to causes that may be habitually neglected by the House majority. Because special order sessions are televised, members can raise awareness of a particular issue beyond the House chamber to include the American electorate at large.

Speaking from the House floor, Congresswoman Maloney outlined the critical need to pass House Joint Resolution 52, a proposal to add a constitutional amendment ensuring men’s and women’s equality (of which she is a primary sponsor), describing the Constitution’s deliberate omission of women as a “glaring problem.”

“The ERA would provide the foundation for legislation to protect women from discrimination at every level,” said Maloney. “There’s only so much we can do until we offer that basic level of protection.”

First introduced in 1923, the ERA guarantees women and men equal protection under the law, stating, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Despite passage by Congress in 1972, the amendment failed ratification by the required 38 states before the congressionally imposed time limit expired.

Today, polls show the overwhelming majority of Americans believe the Constitution should include a provision guaranteeing equal rights for all, but so far both federal and state governments have declined to act, a failure Maloney believes not only stalls current progress towards women’s equality, but also threatens the gains women have already achieved.

“The ERA would be a woman’s best defense against harmful practices that punish her simply because she is a woman,” said Maloney. “It is time to stop making excuses… and demand Congress and state governments get this done.”

“The ERA is the biggest and most basic step we can take to assure equality for every woman,” said Coleman in closing. “We need it and we need it now.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr user David licensed under Creative Commons 2.0


Kitty Lindsay is a Ms. blogger and works at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She is also creator and host of Feminist Crush, a weekly podcast featuring conversations with feminist artists and activists. Follow her on Twitter!