Nearly 50 years ago, just one year before the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Roe v. Wade, the feminist movement successfully petitioned Congress to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. While the language of the amendment was simply written and facially harmless, there was an awareness among many that the amendment’s true purpose was not to protect women against basic discrimination. And one didn’t have to look far to recognize what exactly was at stake. Congressional proponents of the amendment publicly admitted that it would usher in mandatory military service for women, reverse the presumption that a mother should be granted custody of the child in a divorce, and nullify statutory-rape laws because they punish only men. Of course, given the political environment when it was debated, limitless access to abortion was not far from anyone’s mind.
As with any proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, three-fourths of the states needed to ratify the amendment for it to become law. Congress opted to give the states seven years to do so. When that effort failed, Congress purported to extend the period by another three years. By 1982, even the ERA’s staunchest proponents recognized that it had died. By then, only 35 states had ratified the amendment, with five of those states having rescinded their ratifications. Today, 13 states, including Alabama, have never purported to ratify the ERA.
Now the Left has developed a new strategy to “revive” the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. That strategy is to (a) ignore the deadline set by Congress and (b) treat the amendment process like the Hotel California: States can ratify, but they can never rescind.
Legally speaking, this effort is unserious, like trying to sign a contract 40 years too late. Nonetheless, two states have recently purported to “ratify” the expired proposed amendment, and Virginia has announced that it plans to become the “38th” and final state to ratify it as soon as the commonwealth’s legislature convenes in January. If that effort is successful, the rule of law will be undermined as the Constitution’s amendment process is ignored. If the ERA is worth ratifying, surely it is worth ratifying in a legitimate manner.
One can only imagine what the true goals of ERA proponents are today, given the great progress that has been made to protect women against discrimination over the decades since the amendment was proposed. Whether in 1972 or 2019, the ERA attempts to use broad language to take the hatchet, rather than the scalpel, to state laws in the name of protecting women. If the ERA were ratified today, activists would use it to attack legitimate regulations on abortion and argue that states must fund them, as has already happened in states with their own equal-rights amendments. Also on the chopping block? Girls-only sports teams and women’s shelters that won’t admit men.
During the original floor debate in the U.S. Senate, New York senator James Buckley explained his opposition: “Because of my deep respect for women . . . I cannot support the amendment; and I cannot support it because whatever the intentions of its sponsors, we will inevitably find it tugged and twisted and extended far beyond the limits of common sense and reason.” Senator Buckley’s words ring even truer today, given the Left’s ever-evolving understanding of sex and gender.
In the past year alone, my home state of Alabama has both solidified its demand for equal pay between women and men and renewed its efforts to protect the lives of the unborn. Many states across the country have made similar strides. Those who want to see the ERA revived do not (and cannot) deny the progress that we have made as individual states and as a nation. Perhaps that is why proponents offer few specifics as to why this amendment is needed today. This bait-and-switch maneuver is an old favorite of the Left — reviving the ERA as a way to undermine state laws is its newest (old) frontier.