"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged
by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
In 1923, this statement was admitted to Congress under the Equal Rights
Amendment (ERA). The ERA was a proposed amendment to the United States
Constitution granting equality between men and women under the law. If the Era
was passed, it would have made unconstitutional any laws that grant one sex
different rights than the other. However, in the 1970s, the Era was not passed,
and therefore did not become law.
The idea for an equal rights amendment first became acknowledged in the
early part of the twentieth century. In 1916, Alice Paul founded the National
Women's party (NWP), a political party dedicated to establishing equal rights
for women. Traditionally, women were viewed as weaker and inferior to men. The
purpose of the ERA was to prohibit any person from acting on this belief. Alice
Paul viewed that equality under the law was the foundation essential to full
equality for women.
In November of 1922, the NWP voted to work for a federal amendment that
could guarantee women's equal rights regardless of legislatures' indecisions.
The NWP had 400 women lobbying for equality.
Despite strong opposition by some women and men, the NWP introduced and
Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1923. In order to
become law, the amendment needed a two-thirds vote in both houses of the
congress of the United States, or a supporting petition of two-thirds of the
state legislatures. Then the amendment would have required ratification by
three-fourths of the states. However, it failed to get the two-thirds majority
required to move onto the states for approval. The proposed amendment also
failed in following sessions until 1972, when it won a majority vote in Congress.
The main objectives of the women's movement included equal pay for equal
work, federal support for day-care centers, recognition of lesbian rights,
continued legalization of abortion, and the focus of serious attention on the
problems of rape, wife and child beating, and discrimination against older and
minority women. The ERA would have addressed all of these issues if it were
Had it been adopted, the ERA would have resolved the paradox of an
... middle of paper ...
...t giving the Supreme Court and federal agencies
authority to spell out the meaning of equal rights would be risky. Decisions
made on such a level would be too far removed from the ideas and desires of the
people. Opponents felt that equal rights should be dealt with on a local or
state level where legislators can be voted out of position if the people do not
like some of the decisions made.
Although the ERA did not pass, all of the actions made by NOW, NWP, and
any of the other women's movements, have greatly aided women in their battle
against sex discrimination in the work place, in educational institutions, and
in their roles as wives and mothers, and finally laid to rest the controversy
over protective legislation and equal rights. Like the Fourteenth
Amendment, we are inclined to forget that the ERA was designed not to change
values but to modify behavior of mainstream citizens by changing the
constitutional status of a particular group. The ERA's purpose was and is to
provide equality of opportunity through the Constitution and legal system for
those women who want to realize full personal and professional expectations
within mainstream America.
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