Wow. There is a lot to say about this issue, but I should probably start with some background and a few clarifications.
The Equal Rights Amendment was actually first proposed by two Republican lawmakers in 1923, three years after women were granted the right to vote. It was written by a woman named Alice Paul, who was the head of the National Women's Party at the time. It read:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
The ERA stalled in the "committee" phase for years, and in 1946 made it to a full Senate vote but was defeated by three votes. In 1971 the ERA was passed by the US House of Representatives, and the Senate followed suit the following year. Several prominent unions (including the United Auto Workers and the AFL-CIO) voted to endorse it, and the National Organization of Women made it their main charge.
Over the course of the next several years, thirty-five states ratified the ERA. But 38 were needed in order for the Amendment to become law, and finding three more states to ratify it was becoming more and more difficult. Things had begun to slow down, and the ratification deadline was moved forward to 1982 in the hopes that three states would come aboard somehow during that time frame.
But it didn't happen. On June 30, 1982, ERA was declared dead. I was young then, but I can remember my Mom rattling on and on about it with my Dad. I don't remember what they said, but I do remember them talking about it and also seeing bits of it on the news. My Mom also had a pin that she stuck on her dresser, and it remained there for years. It said "We Will Remember in November," a reference to the upcoming elections that year.
The ERA would have been the 27th Amendment to the US Constitution at the time, and if it were to be brought back now it would be the 28th, since we ratified a new Amendment in 1992. Amendments to the framework of the entire US system are few and far between, and are taken very seriously. As a result, there was a great and raging debate about the ERA.
Promoters like the National Organization for Women felt that without the ERA, women would be held pretty much in economic dependence all their lives. They would continue to be "lesser" in the eyes of the government and would have their rights infringed upon without a Constitutional Amendment that could guarantee they would be treated the same as men.
I think the premise of the ERA is superb. Do I think it is Constitutionally necessary? Not really. I guess I'm a Constitutional purist, and I tend not to like fiddling with it all that much. But I will certainly grant the fact that the ERA is an important issue.
That being said, there are some very serious ramifications that will need to be addressed before one considers going for or against the ERA. First of all, having an Equal Rights Amendment will basically negate any sort of special privileges and/or laws that are granted to one particular gender. Hate crimes legislation, for example. If I am a misogynist and kill someone purely on the fact that she is a woman, I can presently be charged with murder and have a "special circumstance" of "hate-based-attack" added to the charge. With the ERA, there can be no such delineation made on a gender basis. This would effectively undo gender-based hate crimes laws entirely.
Many states now offer Temporary Restraining Orders to women who are victims of domestic abuse. These TRO's are given to victims by police officers (who call judges at home to have the orders verbally "signed") and are in effect until full-fledged Restraining Orders can filter through the court system. Such TRO's are not available to men in most states, with the belief that women tend to be at greater risk in cases of domestic abuse and are therefore more in need of special protection. Were the ERA to pass, these gender-based protections would cease to exist.
Statuatory rape laws are another thorny issue. California has long had a special provision in its penal code that separates how male and female statuatory rapists are charged. Men who have sex with minors are charged under statuatory rape laws and women who have sex with minors are given molestation charges. This was challenged in court in 1981, and made it all the way to the US Supreme Court where Justice William Rehnquist (who is now the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, by the way) wrote the majority opinion that upheld the law. He stated:
"We need not be medical doctors to discern that young men and young women are not similarly situated with respect to the problems and the risks of sexual intercourse. Only women may become pregnant, and they suffer disproportionately the profound physical, emotional, and psychological consequences of sexual activity. The statute at issue here protects women from sexual intercourse at an age when those consequences are particularly severe."
Rehnquist did a good job of identifying what I think is important to note...that there are fundamental differences between men and women. Innate differences that cannot be bridged no matter what we do. I cannot be pregnant. Most women can. If the ERA comes in to blur the line between male and female, how much will go with it? Will that statuatory rape law go? And what about abortion? Right now people can be charged with murder for killing an unborn child, yet women are allowed to abort their fetuses. If the ERA were to go through, how would this be handled? Since laws can no longer apply to one particular gender only, but logically only women can abort their fetuses, something will have to give. And being pro-choice, I am not comfortable with that.
And what about little things that we may take for granted? We had a thread about coed bathrooms here a while ago. Would this become the rule rather than the exception? Quite possibly so, if the ERA were enacted. I don't mind coed bathrooms either way, but a lot of people did back in the 1970's, when it was cited as a primary reason many folks were wary of the Amendment. What about compulsory military service? Three days after my 18th birthday I got a "Draft Card" in the mail. My brothers got them too. My sisters never will. Why? Because only men can be made to perform mandatory military service in the event of a national catastrophe. Are women willing to go along with this risk as well? I think many of them are, but again this was a big reason cited in 1975 study that the University of Iowa conducted.
I could go on and on and on, and I think by now you may be able to tell that I wrote a 33-page Constitutional Law essay on this very topic. Sorry for sounding like Professor BruinDan over here, but this is an issue that is so potentially huge, I'm not sure it can just be dismissed in a "Sure, I'm all for it" or "Hell no, it sucks" sort of response. I think it is a great premise, but I can see why people are concerned with it. (And just for information only...the National Organization for Women likes to claim that men were the ones who were afraid of the ERA...but many polls conducted in the 1970's and one major study conducted by the University of Missouri at Kansas City found that more men than women actually supported it. That may be something to look into further)
Either way though, for those of us who may not be very familiar with the topic, or for those of us who are interested in topics of social justice and social welfare, this might be something you could consider going to the library and doing some research on. It's a fascinating topic that has ramifications for a lot of aspects of daily life. I'm just not sure I'll see it re-introduced and ratified anytime soon.
BruinDan, "Number Three"
"Battery Stolen; Youth Charged"