Feminists React: The Equal Rights Amendment Is Now Ratified. What’s Next?

ERA advocates rally on Jan, 27, 2022, in front of the White House. (Lisa Sales)

On Thursday, Jan. 27, the Equal Rights Amendment went into effect, two years to the day after the 38th state ratified the Amendment. Feminists spent the day celebrating this historic milestone, with a morning press conference sponsored by the ERA Coalition and a noontime rally in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square sponsored by the Feminist Majority and the National Organization for Women.

“Finally, nearly 100 years after it was first proposed and 50 years after being approved by Congress, the ERA is not only ratified by required three-fourths of the states, it has completed its two-year waiting period and is taking effect,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority and activist for the ERA for more than 50 years. “The ERA is relevant, has very strong popular support and is needed more than ever.”

The ERA guarantees 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.” Section 2 of the ERA states that “Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

ERA supporters spoke out about what they see as the promise of the ERA.

Participants at the Jan. 27 ERA event. A wide majority of Americans—83 percent—believe the ERA should be ratified and incorporated into the U.S. Constitution. (Lisa Sales)

“The Equal Rights Amendment ensures that all people who face discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual violence, workplace harassment, pregnancy discrimination and unequal pay are finally given full and equal standing under the law,” said Rep Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The ERA will help to address a wide range of discriminatory experiences women encounter in their day-to-day lives, said Christian Nunes, president of the National Organization for Women.

“The ERA provides a legal basis to attack the most subtle, most pervasive and most institutionalized form of prejudice that exists. Discrimination against women on the basis of sex is so widespread that it seems to many persons normal, natural and right. Artificial distinctions between persons must be wiped out of the law,” said Nunes. “Legal discrimination between the sexes is in almost every instance founded on outmoded views of society, pre-scientific beliefs on psychology and physiology. It’s time to wipe these out. It’s time to remove these relics of the past and free a future generation, remove this form of oppression.”

Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, agrees. “Far too often, our society undervalues women’s worth, work and contributions. These inequities are magnified for women of color, those who identify as LGBTQ, and women who are disabled, all of whom confront multiple forms of bias.”

The ERA will protect people based not only on sex but on gender identity as well, according to Mona Sinha, chair of the ERA Fund for Women’s Equality and executive producer of the groundbreaking documentary Disclosure. “What makes the ERA even more potent is that sex equality includes people who identify as transgender and non-binary, which is a reality that can no longer be denied. Everyone in America is talking about inclusion; it is time to walk the walk.”

After the Jan. 27 rally, ERA advocates march to the Department of Justice to deliver a tens of thousands of petitions to Attorney General Merrick Garland. (Lisa Sales)

Young women activists spoke out in support of the ERA as well.

“We are the next generation of feminists and we know we need the ERA,” said Sophia Armen, chair of the Feminist Front, a group of young people fighting patriarchy, transphobia, white supremacy, anti-Blackness and settler colonialism. “Today is a day of celebration and it’s also a day for courage. The ERA is our right. Women and people of marginalized genders make our society run. We have seen this now more than ever during the pandemic. We know from partner to structural violence, from equal pay to health care and workplace discrimination, the ERA is our tool towards freedom and justice to finally right some of the wrongs, some of the erasures in the founding of this country.”

Advocates argue that the ERA would help to address rampant violence against women in American society. 

“Domestic violence is an intentional pattern of behavior to maintain power and control over an intimate partner. Survivors will be better able to secure justice when all partners in a relationship are considered equal in our foundational documents and in the eyes of the law,” said Deborah J. Vagins, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

The ERA would give lawmakers the power to pass stronger laws to address sex discrimination and violence against women, say advocates. In 2000, the Supreme Court invalidated an important provision of the Violence Against Women Act that allowed survivors of gendered violence to sue their attackers for damages because it ruled that Congress had no constitutional authority to enact the provision. The second section of the ERA specifically grants Congress “the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

“The research is clear: Our efforts to end sexual violence are inextricably linked to women’s equality. The Equal Rights Amendment is imperative and long overdue,” said Terri Poore, policy director of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

Outside the Department of Justice on Jan. 27, 2022. (Lisa Sales)

The ERA Coalition, comprised of over 200 national and local organizations, is leading an ERA implementation effort.

“We are now ready to go with plans in place to help all 50 states review their statutes to remove those in conflict with the ERA. There can be no discrimination based on sex in the United States,” said Carol Jenkins, president and CEO of the ERA Coalition/Fund for Women’s Equality.

After the Lafayette Square rally, ERA supporters marched to the Department of Justice to deliver a petition with over 70,000 signatures from around the country urging the U.S. archivist David S. Ferriero to certify and publish the amendment.

Under armed guard, a Justice Department official accepts delivery of over 70,000 petitions. (Lisa Sales)

“We’ve ratified the ERA; now it’s time to enshrine it in our Constitution,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, who along with Chairwoman Maloney introduced a resolution to the U.S. House on Jan. 28 affirming that the Equal Rights Amendment has met all legal requirements to be fully ratified and is now in effect. 

“With this resolution, the House of Representatives reaffirms what we already know to be true: The Equal Rights Amendment is the 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” said Maloney.

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Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.