The vote of the United States House of Representatives would be crucial in deciding the fate of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
House of Representatives to vote on ERA
In what looks to be a decisive moment in US history, the United States House of Representatives will vote today (Thursday) on whether to remove the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This would grant equal rights to all US citizens regardless of sex.
How it all began
After it first proposed the amendment in 1972, Congress imposed a deadline.
But the deadline finally expired four decades ago after 35 states formally agreed to the amendment.
As per rule, Constitutional amendments must be ratified by at least 38 states.
Democrats have their Work Cut Out
Democrats in the House most probably plan to give a go-ahead to a resolution that would remove the deadline altogether.
However, the Republican-led US Senate would have to agree on principle, the possibility of which looks remote.
The proposed amendment got a new lease of life when Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment on January 27.
This, many believe, became possible after Democrats took control of the state legislature for the first time in 27 years.
What does the Equal Rights Amendment mean?
Advocates for gender equality in the US have been tirelessly campaigning for an amendment to the US Constitution that was expected to provide for equal rights between men and women for nearly a century.
Alice Paul, leader of the National Woman’s Party, first proposed ERA in 1923.
As per the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it gave white women the right to vote in the US.
According to the ERA: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex”, and Congress shall have the power to enforce that right.
What role would ERA play?
The ERA would be a legal bulwark against gender discrimination for both women and men, according to the Alice Paul Institute, a non-profit group dedicated to ratifying the ERA.
The ERA would facilitate judicial handling of a wide range of claims including discrimination at the workplace, sexual harassment, gender identity, domestic abuse, and reproductive rights.
The amendment is expected to serve as a pre-emptive warning to any legislators trying to frame new laws that would treat men and women unequally.
Why are a few people opposing it?
The Conservatives have opposed the amendment on the ground that it would engender a wide range of unintended lawsuits that would demean women’s status.
The late conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly campaigned against the ERA back in the 1970s, as he apprehended that it would deprive women of their special protections and privileges.
Opponents have even gone to the extent of arguing that the ERA would hurt families and denude women of certain privileges, such as separate bathrooms and Social Security benefits for widows, among others.
Public Support for ERA
Public opinion, however, has tilted heavily in favor of ERA. According to a 2016 survey, 94 percent majority support a constitutional guarantee of equal rights for men and women.
Why is Congress keen on eliminating the deadline?
Congress set a 1979 deadline for ratification by the states. However, it extended the deadline to 1982.
But after Virginia’s legislature gained a Democratic-majority, the debate over the ERA resurfaced with renewed vigor.
Trump Administration Says No to Ratification of ERA
On January 6, the Trump administration’s Department of Justice took everybody by surprise by issuing a legal memo arguing the ERA could not be ratified because of the expired deadline.
Others maintain that five states – Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota – have voted only to revoke their ratifications of the ERA.
The case, in all likelihood, will go to the US Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is a staunch supporter of the ERA, didn’t pull his punches when he said that it was high time the ERA debate started again.