What would the ERA do?

First, let’s acknowledge that women’s rights have come a long way since the ERA (also known as the 28th amendment) was passed in the early 70s. We can now get a credit card in our own name, married women can enter into contracts without their husbands’ approval, and we don’t have to quit our jobs simply because we’re pregnant.

While significant, each and every one of these gains was accomplished through legislation. But laws are fragile and only pertain to certain types of employment or education. They are not comprehensive and differ from state to state. Plus, laws are subject to interpretation and revocation by whichever legislative body, court, or administration is currently in power. All of this to say: laws are not permanent. A lawful gain can easily be lost.

A timely example of this is the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA). Originally passed in 1994, it periodically needs renewal. Depending on who’s in power at the time, that renewal can come into question. On March 17, 2021, the House passed VAWA, two years after it expired in February 2019. It now goes to the Senate, which last year chose not to take up the previous House version.

2021 should be different, but one has to wonder how many women fell through the cracks during these recent lapses.

The ERA would anchor women’s rights within the Constitution, the governing text of our land.  The wording would be simple and not open to legislative or judicial interpretation. It would add “sex” as a suspect category on par with “religion” and “race.”It would receive the highest level of judicial scrutiny in cases of discrimination, and that protection would be fundamental and universal throughout the United States.

Of particular interest, Section 3 of the ERA gives state and federal governments two years to make sure their “books” are in order. This could be very enlightening. Current statutory and local law is riddled with outdated language that in effect condones state-led discrimination. While some in opposition to the ERA have complained that going through this process is arduous and expensive, we argue that it will open up more eyes and create a better understanding of just how ubiquitous discrimination on the basis of sex really is.

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