The history of the Equal Rights Amendment

As the fight for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and gender equity under the law continues, the DFL wants to reflect on the history of the ERA for Women’s History Month.  

In 1923, for the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention, the first version of the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced. It stated:  “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” The amendment was introduced in Congress the same year. It was largely opposed by reformers who had worked for protective labor laws. Those laws treated women differently from men and they were afraid that the ERA would wipe out the progress they had made.

In 1943, the ERA was rewritten stating, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” It was also around this time that both the Democratic and Republican parties added the support of the ERA to their political platforms. But the labor movement was still committed to protective workplace laws, and social conservatives considered equal rights for women a threat to existing power structures.

In the 1960s, as the second wave of feminism took over, the ERA became the central symbol for the movement. Organized labor and an increasingly large number of mainstream groups joined the call for the Equal Rights Amendment, and politicians reacted to the power of organized women’s voices in a way they had not done since the demand for the right to vote. The ERA passed the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives, and on March 22, 1972, the proposed amendment to the Constitution was sent to the States for ratification. But Congress placed a seven-year deadline on the ratification process. Many ERA advocates appealed to Congress for an indefinite extension of the time limit, and in July 1978, the National Organization of Women (NOW) coordinated a successful march of 100,000 supporters in Washington, D.C. Due to public pressure, Congress granted an extension until June 30, 1982.

When the deadline for ratification arrived on June 30, 1982, the ERA was three states shy of the necessary 38 states for full ratification. The ERA was reintroduced in Congress on July 14, 1982 and has been introduced before every session of Congress since then. Between 2017-2020, the last three states needed to ratify the ERA did so, and it is now up to Congress to remove the deadline.

There are currently two bills in Legislature asking for the removal of the time limit on the National ERA. Doing this will allow for the ratifications of the final three states to count and therefore secure the ERA in the U.S. Constitution. At a state-level, ERA Minnesota strives to add two amendments to the state constitution stating, “Equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender”, and “Equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of sex”. These amendments must be heard and passed this session, so that they can be added to the 2022 MN ballot. (SF 730, SF 879)