WASHINGTON – Senators discussed the legality and impact of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee gender equity under the law, in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this Tuesday.
The Equal Rights Amendment, also called ERA, was first introduced in 1923 but did not pass in both the House and Senate until 1972. Congress then set a seven year deadline for 38 states to individually ratify the amendment before it could become part of the Constitution. Though the ERA’s deadline had expired, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment in 2020, reaching the number of necessary states for certification of the amendment.
Now, a century after its introduction in Congress, a bicameral group of lawmakers have introduced legislation to finally affirm ERA as the federal law of the land.
“There is no time limit on equality,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Ma.) at a press conference on Jan. 31 to announce the resolution, which she co-sponsored. “This is about reciprocity, what we deserve, and about enshrining our humanity and dignity.”
The ERA still faces opposition from some Republican lawmakers and advocacy groups. The leading anti-ERA group and subject of the recent Hulu show “Mrs. America,” Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, argued that because the timeline for ratification has expired, the legislation is dead.
Eagles President Ed Martin accused Democrats of drumming up “long-defunct initiatives that whip their voting base into a frenzy.”
“This pitiful attempt to resurrect ERA isn’t serious. It’s political theater,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
In an interview ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, Zakiya Thomas, President of the ERA Coalition, said that Congress has the ability to remove deadlines any time. Protecting against gender discrimination is particularly consequential now as women’s rights are “rolled back” in courts across the country, said Thomas, citing the Dobbs decision as an example. She added that the effort to stop the ERA has economic motivations which people rarely recognize.
“There’s a financial interest in keeping women subjugated,” she said. “If you follow the money, you’ll see who’s really leading the charge and what they want the status quo for.”
The status quo has already been disrupted, according to Senator Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who said she previously supported the ERA, but believes the resolution has lost its purpose.
“Since for some reason in the 2020s we don’t even know the difference between men and women anymore.” she said earlier this month outside the Senate Chamber. “There’s all this fluidity in the definition [of “woman”], I just don’t support it anymore.”
Pressley told Medill News Service that female lawmakers who oppose the ERA are “complicit in their own undermining and marginalization and oppression.”
The resolution does have some bipartisan support. Co-sponsor Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), said that she is surprised by the Senate’s lack of attention to the issue of equal rights for women, and that there is nothing unconstitutional about ratifying the amendment now.
“What has happened in the states should not die here in the Senate,” she said during the hearing. “We still have a long way to go when it comes to achieving equality for women and I think we need the ERA to get there.”
In addition to Murkowski, the Committee heard from Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), as well as lawyers and advocates.
Three protesters from the pro-ERA group Equal Means Equal, including the group’s President, Kamala Lopez, interrupted anti-ERA lawyers and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.). They were removed from the room by Capitol police.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the resolution will come to the floor of the Senate for a vote in coming weeks. Democrats would need 60 votes to move from debate to a full vote on passage.