One more time for the ERA?

Women still disagree over the definition of equality, so clearly we haven’t come a long way, baby, a

On Sept. 5, Phyllis Schlafly died at the age of 92.

She was the Illinois conservative Republican housewife who almost single-handedly defeated the national ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s.

That’s strange, since support for the ERA had been part of Republican political platforms since the 1940s. This opposition to the amendment was more of a squabble over gender roles than gender rights.

Schlafly claimed the ERA would take away family values and rights of wives to Social Security benefits, child custody, alimony and the presumption that a husband should support the wife; that there would be unisex restrooms (what is this preoccupation with toilets?); that it was proposed mainly by radical feminists, abortionists and lesbians; and that it would destroy our American way of life.

Furthermore under the ERA, women could get drafted, women’s colleges would have to admit men, and homosexuals could get married.

One wonders what she thought about the whole LGBTQ rainbow.

Take a moment to reread those predicted ERA results and ask yourselves how many of them have come to pass without the ERA and whether or not our civilization has crumbled.

The ERA was first proposed in 1923 on the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, saying women’s rights were more than voting rights (19th Amendment) and should be enshrined in the Constitution.

From the beginning, women argued about the meaning of equality. Some wanted to keep gender-based benefits, and others just wanted equal rights. Unions opposed it, saying it would invalidate hard-won protection for women workers.

Even the League of Women Voters (formerly the National American Woman Suffrage Association), the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Federation of Teachers, Americans for Democratic Action, the American Nurses Association and women of the Methodist, Catholic, Jewish and Negro national councils opposed it.

And, of all people, Eleanor Roosevelt was initially against it, saying it was written for middle-class women, not working-class women who needed government protection.

More heat than light, all this opposition was to a simple sentence: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”


The ERA didn’t rise again until the late 1960s, with the formation of NOW (National Organization for Women), civil rights legislation that didn’t specify gender discrimination, and political activism in general (anti-war and civil rights protests).

It was adopted by the Senate in 1972 and was immediately endorsed by President Richard Nixon.

Fulfilling a constitutional requirement that the proposed amendment be ratified by 38 states within seven years was all that remained for it to become law.

When 1979 arrived and only 35 states had ratified it, an extension of three years was passed. In 1982, the matter was declared failed. This leaves more than 51 percent of Americans not equal before the law.

Today, nearly 80 percent of Americans think it passed, if they think of it at all.

The ERA has been reintroduced in every session of Congress since 1982.

Many states have passed their own ERAs, but there is no national establishment of this law in our Constitution.

Last summer, actress Meryl Streep wrote a letter to all 535 Congress members, including the book “Equal Means Equal” by Jessica Neuwirth, asking for another shot at ratification, since only three states are needed.

Who knows where this will go. Perhaps a woman president will get to sign it.

That rumble you hear is Phyllis Schlafly turning over in her grave.

Women still disagree over the definition of equality, so clearly we haven’t come a long way, baby, and we’re not there yet.

Let’s finish this, for our daughters and granddaughters.

Karen Cookson lives in Sharon Springs with her collection of ERA buttons from the ’60s and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

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