Feminist Lawmakers Just Launched the Latest Fight for the Equal Rights Amendment

feature image by Phi Nguyen.

When the longest government shutdown in history came to a close, Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Jackie Speier (D-CA) wasted no time in getting back to the business of what matters: advancing equality.

Actors Patricia Arquette and Alyssa Milano and leaders from the National Women’s Law Center, the Feminist Majority and the National Organization for Women joined Maloney and Speier during a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday to launch a new fight in the 116th Congress to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

“Shouldn’t we eliminate any doubt that men and women are equal? Shouldn’t equality be the default, the inalienable truth?” Maloney said to the crowd. “Now is the time. We are demanding a seat at the table and we are ready to make equality a reality.”

The latest push for ERA ratification crosses party lines and chamber walls. Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) is co-sponsoring Maloney’s legislation to restart the ratification process, and Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have introduced legislation in the Senate that echoes Rep. Speier’s own effort to lift the ratification deadline imposed on the original ERA by Congress.

“Let me be clear,” Milano said during the press conference. “Equality is not an issue of party. It’s not an issue of politics. It’s an issue of basic human dignity.”

The Equal Rights Amendment makes a simple promise: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The amendment, written by suffragist leader Alice Paul and originally introduced in Congress in 1923, ultimately fell short of ratification by just three states.

But now, nearly one century after the fight for ratification began in earnest, the ERA is re-gaining momentum.

“Generations of women have fought to achieve constitutional equality through an Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority and architect of the original activist campaign to ratify the ERA. “The movement to ratify the ERA has maintained increasing momentum because women continue to be fed up with the discrimination faced in schools, in the workplace, in our homes and on the streets. Congress has a duty to correct a historic mistake and remove the arbitrary deadline in the preamble of the ERA. The states never voted on the deadline, and there can be no time limit on the pursuit of equality and justice.”

In the last two years, two more states voted to ratify the amendment: Nevada and Illinois. Now, the race is on to see which state will become the final to say ERA Yes—and re-open the possibility for constitutional equality.

“It is time for the United States of America to afford women the equal rights they have been denied in their own nation for so long,” Arquette declared at the press conference. “It is time we step into our new future—the fair and equitable future American women have long been waiting for.”

A pivotal part of making that happen will be lifting the time limit on ERA ratification. “If equality is truly an American value, it’s time for our founding document to reflect that value,” Speier noted. “It’s time to reset the clock so that women will finally be equal to men under the eyes of the law.”

About

Roxy Szal is a former editorial intern at Ms. After four years of teaching English to Texas middle-schoolers, she earned a Masters in Journalism and Mass Communications at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her graduate capstone project eventually grew into a misogyny in the media watchdog project called How Not to be Sexist.  She is now a freelance writer and editor. Follow Roxy on Twitter: @roxyszal