Feminists react: the equal rights amendment is now ratified. And after?

ERA defenders rally on January 27, 2022 outside the White House. (Lisa Sales)

On Thursday, January 27, the Equal Rights Amendment went into effect, two years to the day after the 38th state ratified the amendment. Feminists spent the day celebrating this historic milestone, with a morning press conference sponsored by the ERA Coalition and a midday rally in Washington, DC’s Lafayette Square sponsored by the Feminist Majority and the National Organization for Women.

“Finally, nearly 100 years after it was first proposed and 50 years after it was approved by Congress, the ERA is not only ratified by three-fourths of the required states, it has completed its two-year waiting period and comes into force,” said Eleanor Smeal, chair of the Feminist Majority and an ERA activist for more than 50 years. “ERA is relevant, has very strong popular support and is needed more than ever.”

The ERA guarantees that “equal rights under the law shall not be denied or restricted by the United States or any state on the basis of sex.” Section 2 of the ERA states that “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this section”.

ERA supporters have spoken out on what they see as the promise of ERA.

Attendees at the January 27 ERA event. A large majority of Americans – 83% – think the ERA should be ratified and incorporated into the US Constitution. (Lisa Sales)

“The Equal Rights Amendment ensures that all people who experience gender-based discrimination, sexual violence, workplace harassment, pregnancy-related discrimination and unequal pay are finally granted status. full and equal under the law,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (DN.Y.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

ERA will help address a wide range of discriminatory experiences that women encounter in their daily lives, said Christian Nunes, president of the National Organization for Women.

“The ERA provides a legal basis for attacking the most subtle, widespread and institutionalized form of prejudice that exists. Discrimination against women on the basis of sex is so widespread that it seems to many normal, natural and just people. Artificial distinctions between people must be removed from the law,” said Nunes. “Legal gender discrimination is in almost all cases based on outmoded views of society, pre-scientific beliefs about psychology and physiology. It’s time to eliminate them. It is time to remove these relics of the past and free a future generation, to remove this form of oppression.

Jocelyn Frye, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, agrees. “Too often, our society underestimates the value, the work and the contributions of women. These inequalities are magnified for women of color, those who identify as LGBTQ, and women with disabilities, all of whom face multiple forms of prejudice.

ERA will protect people based not only on sex but also on gender identity, according to Mona Sinha, president of the ERA Fund for Women’s Equality and executive producer of the groundbreaking documentary Disclosure. “What makes ERA even more powerful is that gender equality includes people who identify as transgender and non-binary, which is a reality that can no longer be denied. Everyone in America talk about inclusion; it’s time to step up.

After the January 27 rally, ERA advocates travel to the Justice Department to deliver tens of thousands of petitions to Attorney General Merrick Garland. (Lisa Sales)

Young women activists have also spoken out in favor of ERA.

“We are the next generation of feminists and we know we need ERA,” said Sophia Armen, president of the Feminist Front, a youth group fighting patriarchy, transphobia, white supremacy, anti -Blackness and settler colonialism. “Today is a day of celebration and it is also a day of courage. ERA is our right. Women and gender marginalized people make our society work. We have seen this more than ever during the pandemic. We know, from domestic violence to structural violence, from equal pay to health care and workplace discrimination, ERA is our tool to freedom and justice to finally right some of the wrongs, some of the erasures in the foundation of this country.

Advocates argue that the ERA would help address endemic violence against women in American society.

“Domestic violence is intentional behavior aimed at maintaining power and control over an intimate partner. Survivors will be better able to obtain justice when all partners in a relationship are considered equal in our foundational documents and in the eyes of the law,” said Deborah J. Vagins, President and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

The ERA would give lawmakers the power to pass tougher laws to address gender discrimination and violence against women, advocates say. In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down an important provision of the Violence Against Women Act that allowed victims of gender-based violence to sue their abusers for damages, because it ruled that Congress had failed to the constitutional power to enact this provision. The second section of the ERA specifically grants Congress “power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this section.”

“The research is clear: our efforts to end sexual violence are inextricably linked to women’s equality. The Equal Rights Amendment is imperative and long overdue,” said Terri Poore, Policy Director of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

In front of the Department of Justice on January 27, 2022. (Lisa Sales)

The ERA Coalition, made up of more than 200 national and local organizations, is leading an effort to implement ERA.

“We are now ready to put plans in place to help all 50 states review their statutes to remove those in conflict with the ERA. There can be no gender discrimination in the United States,” said Carol Jenkins, President and CEO of the ERA Coalition/Fund for Women’s Equality.

After the Lafayette Square rally, ERA supporters marched to the Department of Justice to deliver a petition with more than 70,000 signatures from across the country urging US archivist David S. Ferriero to certify and release the amendment.

Under armed guard, a Justice Department official accepts delivery of more than 70,000 petitions. (Lisa Sales)

“We ratified the ERA; now is the time to enshrine it in our Constitution,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, who along with Speaker Maloney introduced a resolution in the U.S. House on January 28 affirming that the Equality Amendment rights has met all legal requirements to be fully ratified and is now in force.

“With this resolution, the House of Representatives reaffirms what we already know to be true: The Equal Rights Amendment is the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Maloney said.

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