Ralph E. Moore Jr.

By Ralph E. Moore Jr.,
Special to the AFRO

Here is a question for you: why has the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for women not been passed? What’s up with that?

There was an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that was proposed by the National Woman’s Party in 1923 (three years after White American women won the right to vote). It was to make the legal rights of women equal to those of men.  However, unlike the 27 other amendments to our founding document, it has never been attached to the Constitution.

The Equal Rights Amendment followed the prescribed process and was passed by both chambers of Congress. The House of Representatives approved it on Oct. 12, 1971, and the Senate did so on March 22, 1972.

The next step was for state legislatures to ratify the ERA according to Article V in the constitution.  Three-fourths of the states in America had to vote to add in the amendment either in their legislatures or in a convention they’d call for ratification. And 35 of the 38 states needed to add the amendment voted for the ERA as of 1977.

And then the bottom dropped out…No more states ratified the amendment and equal rights for women have not been federally protected. And it’s 2023.

A woman named Phyllis Schlafly came to fame and her place in American politics by opposing the ERA and convincing others to do so in a coalition organized at the grass roots. Schlafly laced her anti-equal rights rhetoric with anti-gay speech.  Although she was a strict Catholic, she drew on many different faith traditions to mount her campaign.  She also received a great deal of media attention.

Phyllis Schlafly slowed down state ratifications of the ERA and brought them to a grinding halt by warning of the alleged danger of “homosexual marriage” and stoking fear of “sex mixing” and “homosexual school teachers.” She equated, in the minds of too many, that supporting equal rights for women meant one was supporting gay rights.  

Incidentally, what’s wrong with supporting rights for LGBTQIA folks in general? 

She promoted hatred and fear casting women’s rights as a gateway or a cover for gay rights. And in 1972, it worked!  Such a tactic would likely not succeed in 2023!

The Equal Rights Amendment went through much discussion and debate, with support from Democrats and Republicans. But it was fought with revisions and resistance from the naysayers.

The women’s movement of the late ‘60s and the ‘70s was identified mostly with White women principally due to Betty Friedan’s book, ‘The Feminine Mystique’ and the rise to fame of NOW, the National Organization of Women. 

The ratification process for the ERA was put before state legislatures on March 22, 1972 and given a seven year deadline to get it approved. A majority of the states passed the amendment within a year; Hawaii ratified it first on the day Congress passed it on for states’ approval. Maryland approved the ERA on May 26, 1972.  

The deadline for ratifications was extended by Congress to March 22, 1979. But prior ratifications were rescinded or challenged in the courts. As recently as March 5, 2021 a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled “the ratification period for the ERA ‘expired long ago’” and that the last three states which had ratified were too late to be counted in favor of the amendment.

Despite the ERA being reintroduced in every session of the U.S. Congress since 1982, it has not been added to the United States Constitution.   States have passed their own equal rights amendments.

But there remains a difference between what men and women earn in the workplace and a bigger difference for Black and Brown women.  There are no Black women in the U.S. Senate, for example, and women can still pay more for hairstyling, dry cleaning and auto repairs (not to mention the difficulty of getting home mortgages).

It is a very interesting fact of history that the Equal Rights Amendment has never been added to the Constitution.  The question is why?  Or is it, why not? 

It is time to enshrine equality for women in America’s highest governing document.  It is way past due, for fairness sake.