Opinion: The US Constitution does not guarantee equality for women. We intend to change that.
Editor’s note: Senator Ben Cardin is the senior US senator from Maryland. Senator Lisa Murkowski is the lead US senator for Alaska. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own. Read more opinion pieces on CNN.
We intend to change this to ensure that “equal rights under the law will not be denied or restricted by the United States or any state on the basis of sex.”
We represent Alaska and Maryland, states with vastly different constituencies and geographies, but we work together to advance equality for all Americans as legal inequalities persist between men and women.
Written and proposed by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was first introduced in Congress in 1923 by Republican Senator Charles Curtis and Republican Congressman Daniel Anthony, nephew of Susan B. Anthony. The measure fell short.
In 1972, after the women’s movement took hold, an updated version was introduced, passed by Congress, and sent to the states for ratification in March of that year. The resolution proposing ERA provided an arbitrary seven-year deadline for states to ratify. Congress then extended that three-year deadline to 1982. Thirty-five states ratified the amendment at that time. Three more states have since: Nevada in 2017, Illinois in 2018 and Virginia in 2020, which became the 38th state to ratify.
Thirty-eight is three-fourths of the states and the constitutional threshold for amendments, but the ERA is still not part of the Constitution due to that foreign deadline set in 1972. Section 5 of the Constitution does not provide any deadline for the ratification of amendments and the ERA itself does not contain any timetable. Congress has already changed the deadline once and should now eliminate it permanently.
Most Americans think we already have equal rights in the Constitution, but we don’t. Despite significant gains in the courts to apply the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to discrimination based on sex, entrenching this principle in our Constitution remains unfinished business.
What we have now is a patchwork of laws that vary from state to state. While nearly half of U.S. states, including Alaska and Maryland, have some version of ERA enshrined in their constitutions, women in our nation will not enjoy equal protection under federal law. until the ERA is ratified at the federal level.
Over the past two years, we have witnessed significant impacts on women’s economic participation and prosperity.
At the height of the pandemic, millions of women quit their jobs to care for family members or saw their jobs disappear. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that up to 2.6 million women left the workforce during the pandemic and about 1 million have yet to re-enter the labor market, leaving the labor force participation rate women in the labor market at its lowest level since 1988.
The House of Representatives passed a joint resolution last year to remove the ERA ratification deadline, and we’re championing a resolution to do the same in the Senate. But we need our colleagues to join us in pushing it through.
This is not a partisan issue. Both Republicans and Democrats today support the ERA and agree that it should be added to the US Constitution. The majority of Americans agree that women should have the same rights as men. According to a Pew poll, 78% of adults support adding the ERA to the Constitution.
The legal case is also strong. As the late Justice Antonin Scalia made clear in 2011, the Constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex. An ERA not only prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, but also adds – as the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg once put it – “a statement of basic rights” that has been missing from our society for far too long. Constitution.
Women are not asking for special privileges, just equality and the same legal rights as men.
As America and our allies strive to preserve democracy in Ukraine, we are proud to fight side by side on a bipartisan basis, on behalf of Americans nationwide, to finally make ERA a part of the Constitution, guaranteeing equality before the law for women. .