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Three Decades Later Equal Rights Amendment is Still 3 Votes Short

In 1982, the Equal Rights Amendment, aimed at guaranteeing equal rights among men and women, ended with the approval of 35 states and needed 38 votes of ratification to pass.Its opponents argued  such an amendment was unnecessary.  Over a quarter of a century later, women still earn almost a quarter less on every dollar paid to men for the same work.  Only 2.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women.

These inequalities led Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-NY, to reintroduce the Equal Rights Amendment to the House of Representatives on July 21, 2009. The amendment, which is co-sponsored by 24 Senators and 200 House Representatives states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any State, on account of sex.” Many believe the time of ratification has finally come.

“Women have made incredible progress in the past few decades. But laws can change, government regulations can be weakened, and judicial attitudes can shift.  The only way for women to achieve permanent equality in the United States is to write it into the Constitution,” Maloney explained in a press release in July. “These 54 words, when passed by Congress and ratified by 38 states, will make equal rights for women not just a goal to be desired but a constitutional right.”

However, overwhelming support in Congress, the amendment still faces an up-hill battle. First introduced in 1923, the ERA has ignited passionate debate during its lifetime. Its vagueness has caused many to believe that, if passed, the bill wouldn’t benefit anyone at all and may actually harm women in certain ways. Add in the  constitutional amendment ratification process, and it becomes clear why this fight has continued  for so long.

There are, however, still many  advocates for the ERA who believe its passing is an absolute necessity that would bring immediate reform to identified inequalities.

One of the more scrutinized inequalities is the gender gap, also known as the “glass ceiling.” In 2008, women earned 77.1 cents on average for every dollar earned by men for the same exact work.

“I think it certainly is necessary to pass the ERA,” said self-proclaimed feminist Sarah H. Sternglanz, a professor of women’s studies at Stony Brook University. “It would certainly make life a lot easier on us.” Sternglanz, along with many advocates for women’s rights, believes that although there are laws in place protecting women, many of them are either not being enforced correctly or not being enforced at all. Sternglanz also echoed Maloney’ claim  that most women’s rights are not properly protected.

“What we have now are not rights,” she said. “Congress passed these laws, which means they can take them away as well. An Amendment would make that much harder to do.”

This advocacy for equal rights from the feminist movement has kept the Amendment from being thrown out completely. However, a strong opposition continues to stand in the way. Suzanne Bibby, Legislative Director of the conservative grassroots organization, Eagle Forum, rejects Sternglanz’s views on the ERA.

“Not only is ERA unnecessary,  it is also a fraud because it pretends to put women into the Constitution,” she contends. Like many opposed to the ERA, Bibby argues that advocates of the ERA have never  been able to show how the amendment would actually benefit women because women are already accounted for in the Constitution.

“The U.S. Constitution is completely sex-neutral.  It uses only sex-neutral words like ‘we the people,’ ‘citizen,’ ‘person,’ ‘resident,’ ‘Senator,’ ‘inhabitant,’ etc,” Bibby said. This is true. Although it’s also true that when the Constitution was drafted, white male landowners and only white male landowners were allowed to vote, despite the language of the Constitution. However, this is not the main problem that Bibby has with the ERA. She believes there are  subliminal motives attached to the amendment.

“Feminists and the [liberals] who support the ERA know that it is not really about women,” she said. “They know and understand the larger goal and that is to put the word ‘sex’ into the Constitution in order to achieve a whole array of agenda items.  These include same-sex marriage, which if the ERA was adopted and ratified, it would activate the gay rights movement to go before activist judges and demand ‘equality…on the account of sex.’  See, because it’s not ‘women’ in ERA… it’s discrimination on the account of ‘sex.’  It is deliberately written to be so vague.”

These objections weren’t made without substance to back it up. Bibby cites NARAL v. Johnson, a 1998 New Mexico Supreme Court case.  The court ruled that because New Mexico has its own ERA in its state constitution, it was unconstitutional not to allow taxpayer funding of abortion. Only women get abortions and denying funding for this would be discrimination based on sex, so funding must be allowed.

This attitude puts equal rights in the back seat. The ERA has been around so long and been ratified by so many states but never made it all the way. This brings up the issue of ratification itself.

In order for an Amendment to be ratified, it must pass through both branches of Congress and then be ratified in 38 states. When the 1982 deadline came around, the ERA had come up just short, as it was ratified by 35 states. Some advocates believed the deadline didn’t actually matter.

The ERA’s official website supports the “three-state strategy,” which said  the 35 states that had already ratified the amendment can’t withdraw their vote. Therefore, once the amendment passes through Congress, it will only need three more states to be ratified. Supporters of the strategy cite the 27th Amendment, or the “Madison Amendment,” which is concerned with  congressional pay raises. It   was ratified 203 years after it was introduced in 1992. If this precedent is upheld, chances of ratification are undoubtedly increased.

The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives but still hasn’t been introduced in the Senate. As to whether or not the amendment will ever actually get ratified, Professor Sternglanz does not have an answer as of yet.

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