The Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress in March of 1972. It is now, as you might’ve noticed, June 2018. So what the heck is Illinois doing, waiting almost 50 years to ratify it? Especially since the deadline for ratification was June 1982? And is it anything more than a symbolic vote?
Here’s the scoop.
The Equal Rights Side of History
You’ve probably seen the grainy black and white photos of (mostly) women marching with “ERA” and “NOW” (National Organization for Women) signs in the 1960s or ’70s. But the Equal Rights Amendment was actually first introduced to Congress in 1921. The general idea of equal protection and rights for women is rather simple, as is the text:
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.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
But the ERA has had a convoluted political and legislative history ever since. As a proposed amendment to the Constitution, the ERA needed to be ratified by 38 states to become part of the document. By the original deadline of March 22, 1979, 35 states had ratified the ERA, though four of those had purportedly rescinded their ratification following Phyllis Schlafly’s scare tactics that the ERA would actually harm housewives and cause women to be drafted into the military.
An extension of the deadline to 1982 did nothing to change things.
Amendments After Deadlines
And, until 2017, that’s where the ERA remained — in legal limbo. In March of last year Nevada ratified the ERA, and with Illinois ratifying the amendment this week, the ERA is just one state away from full ratification. But is it too late? While the supposed deadline for ratification has long passed, there are legal arguments that the amendment is still viable. As an article in the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law contended:
The ERA was first introduced nearly seventy-five years ago. Although some supporters have abandoned hope during the long struggle for ratification, many supporters have continued the fight for equality. The recent ratification of the 203-year-old Madison Amendment gives these supporters new reason to believe that the ERA is still alive. Originally proposed without a time limit in 1789, the requisite thirty-eight states did not ratify the Madison Amendment until 1992. This ratification suggests that amendments, such as the ERA, which do not contain a textual time limit, remain valid for state ratification indefinitely.
As for Illinois, it has had a provision in its state constitution since 1970 that reads: 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. We’ll see if any other states that have yet to ratify the ERA become the potentially pivotal 38th.