Can The Equal Rights Amendment Still Be Ratified? The Answer Is More Complicated Than A Simple Majority

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It's been 45 years since the Equal Rights Amendment passed the House and Senate and despite many hard-won advances, women's rights are facing new and dangerous threats. With proposed roll backs under the current administration looming, many people are wondering can the Equal Rights Amendment still be ratified 35 years passed its deadline? For those unfamiliar with the proposed 27th Amendment to the constitution, the text reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The amendment would eradicate lawful sex discrimination, protect vulnerable anti-discrimination laws, and finally give equal justice and protections to all citizens of the United States; however, this question as to whether the ERA could still be ratified is not so simple.

Originally proposed to congress in 1923 by the American suffragist and Women's rights advocate Alice Paul, it took several wording changes and nearly half a century (where it was introduced to congress every session) for the proposed amendment to pass both the House and Senate.

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When it was sent to the states for ratification in 1972, congress put a seven-year deadline on the process. The amendment met staunch opposition from conservative opponents such as Phyllis Schlafly, leader of the lobbying group Eagle Forum, who asserted that under the new law women could be drafted into the military, and that alimony and custody of children would be more difficult to obtain.

Despite deadline extensions, the ERA failed to obtain the necessary 38 states for three-fourths ratification — missing its 1982 deadline by three states. In 1997, "The Equal Rights Amendment: Why the ERA Remains Legally Viable and Properly Before the States," was published in the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, suggesting that the deadline set by congress could be considered arbitrary, renewing hope in a “three-state strategy.” Organizations such as National Organization for Women (NOW) continue to lobby for ratification of the ERA, despite the lapse of time, and support the reintroduction of the Equal Rights Amendment in Congress. Whether or not this will pass, even with the ratifications, will surely be subject of a lengthy legal battle.

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For the first time in 35 years, ERA supporters have a reason to celebrate as the "Three-state strategy" has just become a "Two-state strategy." In a historic victory Monday, Nevada's state Assembly voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment by a majority of 14. While some republican lawmakers argued that the amendment would embed abortion protections in the constitution, members crossed party lines to vote in favor. The states of Virginia and Illinois have both come close to passing the ERA, and hopes are still alive that this strategy could soon become a reality, though much work has yet to come.