Equal Rights Amendment
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The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for women. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. In 1923, it was introduced in the Congress for the first time. The ERA has always been highly controversial regarding the meaning of equality for women. It was "feminist against feminist," says historian Judith Sealander; the result was the eventual defeat of the ERA. Middle-class women generally were supportive. Those speaking for the working class were strongly opposed, arguing that employed women needed special protections regarding working conditions and hours. In 1972, it passed both houses of Congress and was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification. It seemed headed for quick approval until Phyllis Schlafly mobilized conservative women in opposition, arguing that the ERA would disadvantage housewives.
Congress had set a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979. Through 1977, the amendment received 35 of the necessary 38 state ratifications. Five states later rescinded their ratifications before the 1979 deadline. In 1978, a joint resolution of Congress extended the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982, but no further states ratified the amendment and it died. Several organizations continue to work for the adoption of the ERA.
- 1 Text
- 2 Background
- 3 Congressional passage
- 4 Actions in the state legislatures
- 5 Congressional extension of ratification deadline
- 6 In the courts
- 7 Opposition to the ERA
- 8 Three-state strategy
- 9 Subsequent congressional action
- 10 State Equal Rights Amendments
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Section 1. 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. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Following the 1920 ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women throughout the United States the unabridged right to vote, Alice Paul, a suffragist leader, argued that this right alone would not end discrimination based upon sex. Paul drafted the Equal Rights Amendment and, in 1923, presented it as the "Lucretia Mott Amendment" at the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention and the Declaration of Sentiments.
Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Since the 1920s the Equal Rights Amendment has caused a sharp split among feminists about the meaning of women's equality. Alice Paul and her National Woman's Party was the leading proponent, arguing that women should be on equal terms with men in all regards, even if that means sacrificing certain benefits given to women through protective legislation, such as shorter work hours and no night work or heavy lifting. Feminist opponents of the amendment, such as the Women's Joint Congressional Committee, believed that these gender-based benefits protected women and that the loss of such protection would not be worth the supposed gain in equality. In general, middle-class elements supported the ERA, and working-class elements (and the labor movement) opposed it. In 1924, The Forum hosted a debate between Doris Stevens and Alice Hamilton concerning these two perspectives on the proposed amendment. Their debate reflected the wider tension in the developing feminist movement of the early 20th century between two approaches towards the equality of gender. One approach emphasized shared similarities between the sexes and demanded rights based on women's humanity. The other approach emphasized women's unique experiences and how they were different from men to obtain recognition for their specific needs.
The National Woman's Party already had tested its approach in Wisconsin, where it won the first state ERA in 1921. It then took the proposed federal ERA to Congress in the 1920s, where Senator Charles Curtis, a future Vice President, and Representative Daniel R. Anthony, Jr.—Susan B. Anthony's nephew, both Kansas Republicans, introduced it for the first time as Senate Joint Resolution No. 21 on December 10, 1923, and as House Joint Resolution No. 75 on December 13, 1923, respectively. Though the ERA was introduced in every Congressional session between 1923 and 1970, it almost never reached the floor of either the Senate or the House for a vote—instead, it was usually "bottled up" in committee; except in 1946, when it was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 38 to 35.
Hayden rider and protective labor legislation
In 1950 and 1953, ERA was passed by the Senate with the Hayden rider, making it unacceptable to ERA supporters. The Women's Bureau wanted to keep special protections for women and so it drafted the Hayden rider, which added a new section to the ERA stating: "The provisions of this article shall not be construed to impair any rights, benefits, or exemptions now or hereafter conferred by law upon persons of the female sex." That is, women could keep their existing and future special protections that men did not have. Supporters of an unaltered ERA rejected the Hayden rider, believing an ERA containing the rider did not provide for equality.
In 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower asked a joint session of Congress to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, the first President to show such a level of support for the amendment. However, whenever the ERA was proposed the Hayden rider was added; this would make the amendment unacceptable to the National Woman's Party, which would then ask that the ERA be withdrawn.
The Republican Party included support of the ERA in its platform beginning in 1940, renewing the plank every four years until 1980. The ERA was strongly opposed by the American Federation of Labor and other labor unions, who feared the amendment would invalidate protective labor legislation for women. The Equal Rights Amendment was also opposed by Eleanor Roosevelt and most New Dealers. They felt that ERA was designed for middle class women but that working class women needed government protection. They feared that ERA would undercut the male-dominated labor unions that were a core component of the New Deal coalition. Most northern Democrats, who aligned themselves with the anti-ERA labor unions, opposed the amendment. The ERA was supported by southern Democrats and almost all Republicans.
At the 1944 Democratic National Convention, the Democrats made the divisive step of including the ERA in their platform, but the Democratic Party did not become united in favor of the amendment until Congressional passage in 1972. The main support base for the ERA until the late 1960s was among middle class Republican women. The League of Women Voters, formerly the National American Woman Suffrage Association, opposed the Equal Rights Amendment until 1972, fearing the loss of protective labor legislation.
At the Democratic National Convention in 1960, a proposal to endorse the ERA was rejected after it met explicit opposition from liberal groups including labor unions, AFL-CIO, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), American Federation of Teachers, American Nurses Association, the Women's Division of the Methodist Church, and the National Councils of Jewish, Catholic, and Negro Women. The losing side then demanded that presidential candidate John F. Kennedy announce his support of the ERA; he did so in an October 21, 1960, letter to the chairman of the National Woman's Party. Kennedy was elected and made Esther Peterson the highest-ranking woman in his administration. Peterson publicly opposed the Equal Rights Amendment based on her belief that it would weaken protective labor legislation. Peterson referred to the National Woman's Party members, most of them veteran suffragists and preferred the "specific bills for specific ills" approach to equal rights. Ultimately, Kennedy's ties to labor unions meant he and his administration did not support the ERA.
As a concession to feminists, Kennedy appointed a blue-ribbon commission on women, the President's Commission on the Status of Women, to investigate the problem of sex discrimination in the United States. The Commission was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt who opposed the ERA but no longer spoke against it. In the early 1960s, Roosevelt announced that, due to unionization, she believed the ERA was no longer a threat to women as it once may have been and told supporters that they could have the amendment if they wanted it. However she never endorsed the ERA. The Commission she chaired reported (after her death) that no ERA was needed. The Commission helped win passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which banned sex discrimination in pay in a number of professions (it would later be amended in the early 1970s to include the professions it initially excluded) and secured an Executive Order from Kennedy eliminating sex discrimination in the civil service. The commission, made largely of anti-ERA feminists with ties to labor, proposed remedies to the widespread sex discrimination it unearthed and in its 1963 final report held that on the issue of equality "a constitutional amendment need not now be sought".
The commission established state and local commissions on the status of women and arranged for follow-up conferences in the years to come. The following year, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned workplace discrimination not only on the basis of race, religion, and national origin, but also on the basis of sex, thanks to the lobbying of Alice Paul and Coretta Scott King and the skillful politicking of Representative Martha W. Griffiths of Michigan.
A new women's movement gained ground in the later 1960s as a result of a variety of factors: Betty Friedan's bestseller The Feminine Mystique; the network of women's rights commissions formed by Kennedy's national commission; the frustration over women's social and economic status; and anger over the lack of government and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforcement of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII the Civil Rights Act. In June 1966, at the Third National Conference on the Status of Women in Washington, D.C., Betty Friedan and a group of activists frustrated with the lack of government action in enforcing Title VII of the Civil Rights Act formed the National Organization for Women to act as an "NAACP for women", demanding full equality for American women. In 1967, at the urging of Alice Paul, NOW endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment. The decision caused some union Democrats and social conservatives to leave the organization and form the Women's Equity Action League (within a few years WEAL also endorsed the ERA), but the move to support the amendment benefited NOW, bolstering its membership. By the late 1960s NOW had made significant political and legislative victories and was gaining enough power to become a major lobbying force. In 1969, newly elected Representative Shirley Chisholm of New York gave her famous speech "Equal Rights for Women" on the floor of Congress.
In February 1970, NOW picketed the United States Senate, a subcommittee of which was holding hearings on a Constitutional amendment to lower the voting age to eighteen. NOW disrupted the hearings and demanded a hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment and won a meeting with Senators to discuss the ERA. That August, over 20,000 American women held a nationwide Women's Strike for Equality protest to demand full social, economic, and political equality. Said Friedan of the strike, "All kinds of women's groups all over the country will be using this week on August 26 particularly, to point out those areas in women's life which are still not addressed. For example, a question of equality before the law; we are interested in the Equal Rights Amendment." Despite being centered in New York City—which was regarded as one of the biggest strongholds for NOW and other groups sympathetic to the women's liberation movement such as Redstockings—and having a number of participants which were small in contrast to the large-scale anti-war and civil rights protests that had occurred in the recent time prior to the event, the strike was credited as one of the biggest turning points in the rise of second-wave feminism.
In Washington, D.C., protesters presented a sympathetic Senate leadership with a petition for the Equal Rights Amendment at the U.S. Capitol. Influential news sources such as Time also supported the cause of the protestors. Soon after the strike took place, activists distributed literature across the country as well. In 1970, Congressional hearings began on the ERA.
Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan achieved success on Capitol Hill with her House Joint Resolution No. 208, which was adopted by the House on October 12, 1971, with a vote of 354 yeas, 24 nays and 51 not voting. Griffiths's joint resolution was then adopted by the Senate on March 22, 1972, with a vote of 84 yeas, 8 nays and 7 not voting. The Senate version, drafted by Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana, passed after an amendment proposed by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina that would exempt women from the draft was defeated. President Richard Nixon immediately endorsed the ERA's approval upon its passage by the 92nd Congress.
Actions in the state legislatures
The initial pace of ratifications was rapid; 30 states had done so by the end of 1973. The rate of ratification then slowed considerably. Only 5 more states ratified the ERA over the course of the ensuing 4 years, with none coming after 1977. The ERA was three states shy of the necessary 38 ratifications as the March 22, 1979, ratification deadline approached.
As of that original deadline the ERA had been ratified by the following states:
- Hawaii (March 22, 1972)
- New Hampshire (March 23, 1972)
- Delaware (March 23, 1972)
- Iowa (March 24, 1972)
- Idaho (March 24, 1972)
- Kansas (March 28, 1972)
- Nebraska (March 29, 1972)
- Texas (March 30, 1972)
- Tennessee (April 4, 1972)
- Alaska (April 5, 1972)
- Rhode Island (April 14, 1972)
- New Jersey (April 17, 1972)
- Colorado (April 21, 1972)
- West Virginia (April 22, 1972)
- Wisconsin (April 26, 1972)
- New York (May 18, 1972)
- Michigan (May 22, 1972)
- Maryland (May 26, 1972)
- Massachusetts (June 21, 1972)
- Kentucky (June 26, 1972)
- Pennsylvania (September 27, 1972)
- California (November 13, 1972)
- Wyoming (January 26, 1973)
- South Dakota (February 5, 1973)
- Oregon (February 8, 1973)
- Minnesota (February 8, 1973)
- New Mexico (February 28, 1973)
- Vermont (March 1, 1973)
- Connecticut (March 15, 1973)
- Washington (March 22, 1973)
- Maine (January 18, 1974)
- Montana (January 25, 1974)
- Ohio (February 7, 1974)
- North Dakota (March 19, 1975)
- Indiana (January 24, 1977)
Ratifications rescinded 1973–1979
Legislators in the following states voted to rescind their earlier ratification of the ERA:
- Nebraska (March 15, 1973 – Legislative Resolution No. 9)
In 1972, the Nebraska Legislature adopted the improperly-worded Legislative Resolution No. 83 followed by correctly-worded Legislative Resolution No. 86, to ratify ERA. In 1973, the Nebraska Legislature then adopted Legislative Resolution No. 9 to rescind only the aforementioned improperly-worded LR No. 83. This may mean that Nebraska—technically—did not rescind its 1972 ERA ratification.
- Tennessee (April 23, 1974 – House Joint Resolution No. 371 and Senate Joint Resolution No. 29)
- Idaho (February 8, 1977 – Senate Joint Resolution No. 133 and House Concurrent Resolution No. 10)
- Kentucky (March 17, 1978 – House (Joint) Resolution No. 2 and House (Joint) Resolution No. 20)
The Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, Thelma Stovall, who was acting as governor in the Governor's absence, vetoed the rescinding resolution.
- South Dakota (March 1, 1979 – Senate Joint Resolution No. 1 and Senate Joint Resolution No. 2)
Senate Joint Resolution No. 2, while not going quite so far as to rescind its prior ratification of ERA, stipulated that the ERA's opportunity for ratification—by any state of the Union—would expire on March 22, 1979; furthermore, Senate Joint Resolution No. 2 made clear that South Dakota's own ratification of the ERA would only be valid up until March 22, 1979, and that any ratification activities transpiring after that date anywhere else would be considered by South Dakota to be null and void.
The Constitution is silent regarding whether the governor of a state has any authority regarding whether that state ratifies an amendment to the Constitution. The Constitution is likewise silent regarding a state's authority to rescind its ratification of a proposed, but not yet adopted, constitutional amendment.
Rejecting states with one-house approval
At various times, in 9 of the 15 non-ratifying states, at least one house of the legislature approved the ERA. It failed in those states, because both houses have to approve during the same session.
- Florida – House of Representatives voted to ratify the ERA on March 24, 1972, with a tally of 91 to 4; a second time on April 10, 1975, with a tally of 62 to 58; a third time on May 17, 1979, with a tally of 66 to 53; and a fourth time on June 21, 1982, with a tally of 60 to 58.
- Illinois – Senate voted to ratify the ERA in May 1972, with a tally of 30 to 21; and whose House of Representatives voted to ratify the ERA on May 1, 1975, with a tally of 113 to 62; and again on May 21, 2003, with a tally of 76 to 41. At various times, votes were conducted in both houses of the Illinois General Assembly on the question of ratifying the ERA and while most members voted in favor of ratification, the result was always less than the three-fifths supermajority vote in each house of the Illinois General Assembly required for ratification by the Illinois state constitution.
- Louisiana – Senate voted to ratify the ERA on June 7, 1972, with a tally of 25 to 13.
- Missouri – House of Representatives voted to ratify the ERA on February 7, 1975, with a tally of 82 to 75.
- Nevada – Assembly voted to ratify the ERA on February 17, 1975, with a tally of 27 to 13; and Senate voted to ratify the ERA on February 8, 1977, with a tally of 11 to 10.
- North Carolina – House of Representatives voted to ratify the ERA on February 9, 1977, with a tally of 61 to 55.
- Oklahoma – whose Senate voted to ratify the ERA on March 23, 1972, by a voice vote.
- South Carolina – whose House of Representatives voted to ratify the ERA on March 22, 1972, with a tally of 83 to zero.
- Virginia – whose Senate voted to ratify the ERA on February 7, 2011, with a tally of 24 to 16 (Senate Joint Resolution No. 357); a second time on February 14, 2012, with a tally of 24 to 15 (Senate Joint Resolution No. 130); a third time on February 5, 2014, with a tally of 25 to 8 (Senate Joint Resolution No. 78); and a fourth time on February 5, 2015, with a tally of 20 to 19 (Senate Joint Resolution No. 216).
Congressional extension of ratification deadline
In 1978—as the 1979 deadline approached—the 95th Congress adopted House Joint Resolution No. 638 (H. J. Res. 638), by Representative Elizabeth Holtzman of New York, which purported to extend the ERA's ratification deadline to June 30, 1982. H. J. Res. 638 received less than two-thirds of the vote (a simple majority, not a supermajority) in both the House of Representatives and the Senate; for that reason, ERA supporters deemed it necessary that H. J. Res. 638 be transmitted to then President Jimmy Carter for signature as a safety precaution. Carter signed the joint resolution, though he questioned—on procedural grounds—the propriety of his doing so. During this disputed extension, no additional states ratified or rescinded.
No additional states ratified the ERA during that extra period of slightly more than three years. On June 18, 1980, a resolution in the Illinois House of Representatives resulted in a vote of 102-71 in favor, but Illinois required a three-fifths majority on constitutional amendments and so the measure failed by five votes. In 1982, seven female ERA supporters went on a hunger strike and seventeen chained themselves to the door of the Illinois senate chamber; none of this resulted in any state ratifications. The closest the ERA came to gaining an additional ratification between the original deadline of March 22, 1979 and the revised June 30, 1982, expiration date was when it was approved by the Florida House of Representatives on June 21, 1982. In the final week before the deadline, that ratifying resolution was defeated in the Florida Senate by a vote of 16 yeas and 22 nays. Even if Florida had ratified the ERA, the proposed amendment would still have been two states short of the required 38 (seven states short if the rescissions were valid).
According to research by Professor Jules B. Gerard, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, of the 35 legislatures that passed ratification resolutions, 24 explicitly referred to the 1979 deadline.
In the courts
On December 23, 1981, in Idaho v. Freeman, the United States District Court for the District of Idaho ruled that the rescissions—all of which occurred before the original 1979 ratification deadline—were valid and that the ERA's deadline extension was unconstitutional. The National Organization for Women appealed both rulings. The Administrator of General Services noted that the ERA had not received the required number of ratifications (38), so that "the Amendment has failed of adoption no matter what the resolution of the legal issues presented here." On October 4, 1982, in NOW v. Idaho, 459 U.S. 809 (1982), the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the ruling in Idaho v. Freeman and declared the entire matter moot on the grounds that the ERA was dead for the reason given by the Administrator of General Services.
Opposition to the ERA
Opponents of the ERA focused on traditional gender roles, such as how men do the fighting in wartime. They pointed out that the amendment would eliminate the men-only draft requirement and guarantee the possibility that women would be subject to conscription and be required to have military combat roles in future wars if it were passed. Defense of traditional gender roles proved to be a useful tactic. In Illinois, supporters of Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative Republican activist from Illinois, used traditional symbols of the American housewife. They took homemade bread, jams, and apple pies to the state legislators, with the slogans, "Preserve us from a congressional jam; Vote against the ERA sham" and "I am for Mom and apple pie." They appealed to married women by stressing that the amendment would repeal protective laws such as alimony and eliminate the tendency for mothers to obtain custody over their children in divorce cases. It was suggested that single-sex bathrooms would be eliminated if the amendment were passed as well. Traditional women started to oppose the ERA. Schlafly said the ERA was designed for the benefit of young career women and warned that if men and women had to be treated identically it would threaten the security of middle-aged housewives with no job skills. They could no longer count on alimony. Women's colleges would have to admit men. Her argument that protective laws would be lost resonated with working-class women.
At the 1980 Republican National Convention, the Republican Party platform was amended to end its support for the ERA. The most prominent opponent of the ERA was Schlafly. Leading the Stop ERA campaign, Schlafly defended traditional gender roles and would often bait feminists by opening her speeches with lines like, "I'd like to thank my husband for letting me be here tonight-- I always like to say that, because it makes the libs so mad." When Schlafly began her campaign in 1972, public polls showed support for the amendment was widely popular and thirty states had ratified the amendment by 1973. After 1973, the number of ratifying states slowed to a trickle. Support in the states that had not ratified fell below 50%. Critchlow and Stachecki argue that public opinion in key states shifted against the ERA as opponents, operating on the local and state levels, won over the public. The state legislators in battleground states followed public opinion in rejecting the ERA.
Experts agree that Phyllis Schlafly was a key player in the defeat. Political scientist Jane J. Mansbridge in her history of the ERA argues that the draft issue was the single most powerful argument used by Schlafly and the other opponents to defeat ERA. She concludes:
- Many people who followed the struggle over the ERA believed—rightly in my view—that the Amendment would have been ratified by 1975 or 1976 had it not been for Phyllis Schlafly's early and effective effort to organize potential opponents.
Joan Williams argues, "ERA was defeated when Schlafly turned it into a war among women over gender roles." Historian Judith Glazer-Raymo argues:
- As moderates, we thought we represented the forces of reason and goodwill but failed to take seriously the power of the family values argument and the single-mindedness of Schlafly and her followers. The ERA's defeat seriously damaged the women's movement, destroying its momentum and its potential to foment social change....Eventually, this resulted in feminist dissatisfaction with the Republican Party, giving the Democrats a new source of strength that when combined with overwhelming minority support, helped elect Bill Clinton to the presidency in 1992 and again in 1996.
Many ERA supporters blamed their defeat on special interest forces, especially the insurance industry and conservative organizations, suggesting they funded an opposition that subverted the democratic process and the will of the pro-ERA majority. They argued that while the public face of the anti-ERA movement was Phyllis Schlafly and her STOP ERA organization, there were other important groups in the opposition as well, such as the powerful National Council of Catholic Women, labor feminists, and (until 1973) the AFL–CIO. Opposition to the amendment was particularly high among religious conservatives, who argued that the amendment would guarantee universal abortion rights and the right for homosexual couples to marry. Critchlow and Stachecki say the anti-ERA movement was based on strong support among Southern whites, Evangelical Christians, Mormons, Orthodox Jews, and Roman Catholics, including both men and women.
Beginning in the mid 1990s, a few proponents of the ERA launched a three-state strategy to win ratification of the ERA by the legislatures of states that did not ratify it in 1972–1982. Proponents of the three-state strategy have promoted ratification resolutions in the legislatures of most of the 15 states that never ratified the ERA approved by Congress in 1972. Ratification resolutions have been introduced in several state legislatures, but not one state has given it approval.
In 2013, the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service issued a report that said, "ERA proponents claim that the Supreme Court’s decision in Coleman v. Miller gives Congress wide discretion in setting conditions for the ratification process." It also states that "Revivification opponents caution ERA supporters against an overly broad interpretation of Coleman v. Miller, which, they argue, may have been be [sic] a politically influenced decision."
Subsequent congressional action
The amendment has been reintroduced in every session of Congress since 1982. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) championed it in the Senate during the 99th Congress through the 110th Congress. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the amendment symbolically at the end of the 111th Congress and has supported it in the 112th Congress. In the House of Representatives, Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) has sponsored it since the 105th Congress, most recently in August 2013.
In 1983, the ERA passed through House committees with the same text as in 1972; however, it failed by six votes to achieve the necessary two-thirds vote on the House floor. That was the last time that the ERA received a floor vote in the Congress.
At the start of the 112th Congress on January 6, 2011, Senator Menendez, along with Representatives Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Gwen Moore, held a press conference advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment's adoption.
Proposed removal of ratification deadline
On March 8, 2011, the 100th Anniversary of International Women's Day, Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced legislation (H.J.Res. 47) to remove the Congressionally imposed deadline for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Bill co-sponsors include Representatives Robert Andrews (D-NJ), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). On March 22, 2012, the 40th anniversary of ERA's congressional approval, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) introduced (S.J. Res. 39)--which is worded with slight differences from Representative Baldwin's (H.J. Res. 47). Senator Cardin was joined by ten other Senators who added their names to the Senate Joint Resolution.
On February 24, 2013, the New Mexico House of Representatives adopted House Memorial 7 asking, also, that the Congressionally imposed deadline for ERA ratification be removed. House Memorial 7 was officially received by the U.S. House of Representatives on April 25, 2013, and was referred to the House's Committee on the Judiciary, as noted in the Congressional Record.
State Equal Rights Amendments
Eleven states have adopted constitutions or constitutional amendments providing that equal rights under the law shall not be denied because of sex. Most of these provisions mirror the broad language of the ERA, while the wording in others resembles the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Of course, the state actions do not change the federal draft laws that proved one of the stumbling blocks to passage of the national ERA. The 1879 Constitution of California contains the earliest state equal rights provision on record. Narrowly written, it limits the equal rights conferred to "entering or pursuing a business, profession, vocation, or employment." Near the end of the 19th century two more states, Wyoming (1890) and Utah (1896), included equal rights provisions in their constitutions. These provisions were broadly written to insure political and civil equality to women. Several states crafted and adopted their own equal rights amendments during the 1970s and 1980s, while the ERA was before the states or afterward.
Alaska – No person is to be denied the enjoyment of any civil or political right because of race, color, creed, sex or national origin. The legislature shall implement this section. Alaska Constitution, Article I, §3 (1972)
California – A person may not be disqualified from entering or pursuing a business, profession, vocation, or employment because of sex, race, creed, color, or national or ethnic origin. California Constitution, Article I, §8 (1879)
Colorado – Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the state of Colorado or any of its political subdivisions because of sex. Colorado Constitution, Article II, §29 (1973)
Connecticut - No person shall be denied the equal protection of the law nor be subjected to segregation or discrimination in the exercise or enjoyment of his or her civil or political rights because of religion, race, color, ancestry, national origin, sex or physical or mental disability. Connecticut Constitution, Article I, §20 (1984)
Illinois - The equal protection of the laws shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex by the State or its units of local government and school districts. Illinois Constitution, Article I, §18 (1970)
Iowa – All men and women are, by nature, free and equal and have certain inalienable rights—among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness. Iowa Constitution, Article I, §1 (1998)
Maryland – Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged or denied because of sex. Maryland Constitution, Declaration of Rights, Article 46 (1972)
Montana – Individual dignity. The dignity of the human being is inviolable. No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. Neither the state nor any person, firm, corporation, or institution shall discriminate against any person in the exercise of his civil or political rights on account of race, color, sex, culture, social origin or condition, or political or religious ideas. Montana Constitution, Article II, §4 (1973)
Oregon - Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the state of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex. Oregon Constitution, Article I, §46 (2014)
Utah – The rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this State shall enjoy all civil, political and religious rights and privileges. Utah Constitution, Article IV, §1 (1896)
Wyoming – In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal. Since equality in the enjoyment of natural and civil rights is only made sure through political equality, the laws of this state affecting the political rights and privileges of its citizens shall be without distinction of race, color, sex, or any circumstance or condition whatsoever other than the individual incompetency or unworthiness duly ascertained by a court of competent jurisdiction. The rights of citizens of the state of Wyoming to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this state shall equally enjoy all civil, political and religious rights and privileges. Wyoming Constitution, Articles I and VI (1890)
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