Why We Still Need to Fight For the Equal Rights Amendment, 100 Years Later

This year marks 100 years since the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment and half a century since it passed in Congress. Since then, the ERA has been ratified in 38 states, reaching the requisite number to be formally added to the US Constitution. And yet — no ERA.

Why are we giving you this history lesson? Because even though the state threshold has been met, and even though 85 percent of Americans support the amendment, we are stuck in an unnecessary limbo that leaves more than half the US population without equal protection under the law.

Frankly, that pisses me off — and it should get you riled up, too. That's why we've put together a guide on what you need to know about the ERA, how it would bring us one step closer to equality for all Americans, and how you can fight for it.

What Is the Equal Rights Amendment?

The Equal Rights Amendment is a proposed constitutional amendment that would permanently ban any state or federal government from discriminating "on the basis of sex" in the United States.

Many think the ERA is solely about women's rights. While it did rise out of the predominantly white suffrage movement of the early 20th century, today's ERA reflects a broader and more inclusive movement and — thanks to the Supreme Court's 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County — a definition of "sex" that includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. In fact, much of the credit for reinvigorating this effort goes to Pat Spearman, a Black woman and the first openly lesbian member of the Nevada state legislature.

Why Do We Still Need the Equal Rights Amendment?

There is plenty to worry about in the world right now, so why should we care about this? It's a good question, and we'll give you five reasons, inspired by activist and author Kate Kelly:

  1. The ERA will help save abortion rights by creating a constitutional hook not dependent on the 14th Amendment's right to privacy (an approach recently gutted by the Dobbs decision).
  2. The ERA will protect the LGBTQ+ community — including transgender people who are under constant attack — by permanently enshrining protection from discrimination in the US Constitution.
  3. The ERA will help achieve equal pay for equal work by creating a mandate for Congress to pursue additional legislation around gender equality.
  4. The ERA will help us prevent and prosecute gender-based violence by expanding the power of federal courts to hear relevant cases and award damages.
  5. The ERA is a permanent and positive guarantee of equality, not subject to the whims of who is in Congress or the White House or on the Supreme Court. Consider this: court cases based on sex discrimination have a 26 percent lower success rate than discrimination cases based on race, religion, or national origin. The ERA can help fix this.

At the most basic level, the ERA would permanently enshrine anti-discrimination protections at the highest level of American law to more than half the US population.

What Is the Holdup?

To alter the Constitution, three-quarters of all US states must individually ratify a proposed amendment that has first passed in Congress. In 2020, Virginia joined Illinois and Nevada in approving the ERA and crossing that 38-state threshold. Why, then, have we not reprinted our pocket Constitutions?

The maddening reason is deceptively simple: the past two presidential administrations have refused to formally certify the amendment's ratification in Virginia, per USA Today. In fact, the Biden-Harris administration, whose National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality mentions ratifying the ERA by name, is still fighting in court to uphold the Trump administration's refusal to do so.

Instead, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have passed the buck to Congress, per The Hill, insinuating that the ERA's path is blocked by necessary federal legislation. Here's the thing: constitutionally, it's not, and practically, it's impossible. There are not 60 votes in the Senate to move anything right now. Saying "it's Congress's problem" is tantamount to blocking it entirely.

There are procedural squabbles (read more about those in The New York Times) to equivocate around, but legal precedent dictates that the ERA has cleared its hurdles and is ready for certification by the archivist of the United States. Yet she — our first woman archivist in US history, working in the most diverse presidential administration in American history — hasn't done it yet.

What Can You Do to Support the ERA?

To get the ERA over the finish line, we must build the public pressure necessary to galvanize the Biden-Harris administration into action. We have to show that we care and we're watching. In the 1970s, more than 100,000 people marched in support of the ERA. We can run this back. Here's how:

  • Join a local chapter of Generation Ratify, a youth-led movement to advance gender equity in the US. Show up to its events. Give money. Make noise.
  • Call your representative and senators to pressure them to publicly support the ERA, either by joining the ERA Caucus in the House (newly created by Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Cori Bush), voting to remove an arbitrary past deadline, or issuing a public statement urging the administration to certify the amendment.
  • Bring attention to the ERA with your friends, family, and local community. The more people who know about it (and know that these protections don't actually exist in the Constitution already), the more we can accomplish together. Write to your newspaper. Deliver a sermon. Put a sign in your window. Get loud.

Back in the day, Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-NY) blocked discussion of the ERA in the House of Representatives for 30 years before unrelenting pressure from inside Congress and a groundswell of public support forced his hand. We've made magic before; let's do it again.