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Equality Under The Law

Equal Rights Amendment

Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 and sent it to the states for ratification with a ten-year deadline. The simple wording read: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Women across the nation actively engaged in the campaign for ratification. Women’s organizations raised money and generated public support. Marches in key states brought out hundreds of thousands of ERA supporters. House meetings, walk-a-thons, door-to-door canvassing, and events of every imaginable kind encouraged financial support, and the ranks of women’s rights organizations swelled.

Opponents organized by Phyllis Schlafly argued that the ERA would increase government control over personal lives. They pictured men abandoning their families. Unisex toilets, gay marriages, and a military draft for women would become law. In 1980, the Republican Party removed support for the ERA

Support for the amendment surged in the 1970s, with California coalitions and feminists tirelessly fighting for ratification. In April 1973, Governor Reagan affirmed his support. Over 150,000 of the State’s women supported the ERA. Although California did not pass the state ERA, legislators introduced some 300 bills affecting the status of women. Between 1973 and 1976, 72 of those 300 bills were signed into law. These laws focused on child support, affirmative action, and mandated classroom lessons on women's contributions to the State of California.

When the deadline for ratification came in 1982, the ERA was just 3 states short of the 38 needed to add the amendment to the Constitution. Polls showed a large supportive majority in the nation. 75% of women legislators in the three pivotal states backed the ERA, but many politicians considered it too controversial. Only 46% of the men voted to ratify. With too few women in state legislatures to vote in favor, male legislators had the power to decide if women should have equal rights.

 

The ERA was reintroduced in November 1983 as a House Bill instead of an amendment, but the House of Representatives rejected it--six votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass.

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