100 Years Later, We Still Don’t Have an Equal Rights Amendment. This Generation’s Leaders Want to Change That (Elle)

Mar 23, 2023
In the News

Rosie Couture remained unfazed as she stood outside the Capitol on January 5, holding a giant canvas that read “ERA NOW” in green and pink letters. Though she couldn’t have predicted the mayhem that would transpire on Capitol Hill that week—as Republicans struggled to agree on who should become Speaker of the House—the chaos was, in some ways, fleeting. In contrast, Couture had arrived in Washington, D.C. carrying a 100-year-old movement on her shoulders.

At just 19 years old, Couture, a Virginia native and Harvard College freshman, is the co-founder of Generation Ratify, a youth-led organization working to advance gender equality. In January, nearly 20 of her cohorts came together in D.C., all on a mission to talk to members of Congress about the group’s number one priority: ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. “We were standing outside the House steps, where the news was, so that we could be in the faces of these representatives,” Couture said. “They were coming up and down the stairs, and we were talking to anyone who would listen.”

If you thought the Equal Rights Amendment was a relic of a bygone era, you’re not alone. Though it was first drafted 100 years ago, the ERA—a proposed amendment that would enshrine gender equality in the U.S. Constitution and legally prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex—has yet to be added to our country’s founding document.

Congress voted in favor of adding the new language to the Constitution back in 1972 and sent it to the states for ratification. (In order to become part of the Constitution, a proposed amendment must be ratified by three-fourths, or 38, of the states.) By 1977, 35 states had voted to ratify. Then, after decades of stalemate, Donald Trump’s election, the ensuing women’s marches, and the #MeToo movement led to a new wave: In 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, following Illinois in 2018 and Nevada in 2017.

But technically speaking, there are still a few obstacles blocking the ERA from becoming the law of the land. Five states—Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Tennessee—voted to rescind their ratification in the 1970s amid the opposition movement STOP ERA; the movement’s leader, Phyllis Schlafly, argued that the amendment would take away women’s “privileges” and send young women into the draft. And though Congress voted to extend the ERA’s initial ratification deadline, that date passed in 1982. Now, lawmakers are working on removing the deadline altogether and affirming the ratification of the ERA.

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