On May 30, Illinois became the 37th state to pass the Equal Right Amendment (ERA), which says, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Next, advocates aim to secure the final state needed to ratify the amendment. They will probably target Virginia, North Carolina or Georgia.
True, the deadline to ratify the ERA came and went in 1982. But that may not be a dealbreaker. Some legal strategists argue that since other amendments had no time limit for ratification, the ERA should not have had one, either. Others argue that Congress simply needs to extend the deadline.
Suddenly, almost a century after it was first proposed, the ERA might be within reach.
The law is overdue, culturally and legally. Many Americans assume that the United States already has gender-equality rules. After all, the Civil Rights Act, Title IX and the Equal Pay Act all offer protections against discrimination. But these are pieces of legislation. New laws and Supreme Court rulings can diminish their power.
An amendment, by contrast, would force a constitutional reckoning for sex-based discrimination. Hillary Clinton’s historic presidential campaign, the sexist responses to it and the election of Donald Trump prompted a wave of women’s activism that has resurrected this once-dead amendment.
But the question remains: Can women’s rights activists overcome entrenched racial and class divides to unite on a single issue the way they once did on suffrage? Will divisions among feminists provide fodder for conservative opponents? Or will women who believe the law threatens their position as mothers mobilize yet again to prevent the ERA’s passage?