June 29, 2012. The Equal Rights Amendment’s apparent demise occurred exactly thirty years ago this week – on June 30, 1982 – when an extended deadline for ratification expired.
But like a corpse in a coffin that has surprisingly begun to breathe again, the amendment that would incorporate equality on account of sex in the United States constitution is showing signs of life, with two resolutions before the Congress to remove the deadline from the proposing clause of the amendment.
The Equal Rights Amendment states: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
North Carolina’s congressional representatives have shown little interest in the ERA. Three – Rep. G.K Butterfield of District 1, Rep. Brad Miller of District 13 and Rep. Melvin L. Watt of District 12 – are co-sponsors of H.J. Resolution 69 that would start the ERA process over again, requiring 38 state ratifications.
No North Carolina representative has so far sponsored the resolutions that would allow ratification by only three more states – H.J. Resolution 47 and S.J. Resolution 39, introduced during the past 18 months. H.J. Resolution, has 36 co-sponsors, and S.J. Resolution 39 has 12.
Yet a U.S. military announcement last May to expand job opportunities demonstrated clearly that legal sex discrimination – in this case against women – still exists in the United States. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57435097/army-opens-jobs-in-combat-battalions-to-women/
The possibility of removing the deadline from the 1972 ERA resolution, which Washington, D.C.-based United For Equality inspired, (http://www.united4equality.com/) has arisen because of developments in the 1990s which raised questions about the constitutionality of such deadlines in amendments.
The ERA’s deadline expired after a three-year extension with 35 out of 38 states having ratified. North Carolina is one of fifteen unratified states. Governor Beverly Perdue, North Carolina’s first female governor, has not tackled ERA ratification.
In the words of the High Country’s 1982 first female state representative, Pinky Hayden, it was North Carolina’s “bad behavior,” that was pivotal in consigning the ERA to the morgue. North Carolina ratified the woman suffrage amendment, which became law in 1920, only in 1971.
The ERA was always, since Alice Paul first introduced it in 1923, a matter of principle. It would make equality, which is part of the constitution through what President Lincoln called the “apple of gold” – the Declaration of Independence – apply explicitly to both sexes. In other words, it could benefit the whole population.
In the 21st century the ERA is about more than equality of the sexes under the constitution. It is also about the integrity of the constitutional process. Since the early 1990s the ERA has become a potential means to clear up a constitutional mess.
Deadlines were never included in Article V of the Constitution. The first occurred with Prohibition during President Wilson’s administration. Since then, some constitutional amendments have been more equal than others, with deadlines, or none, appearing in a variety of ways and with judicial pronouncements muddying the waters.
In 1992, the ratification after 202 years of the 27th Amendment on congressional pay raised the question of the fundamental constitutionality of deadlines, and immediately the ERA assumed new importance as a case that could test these issues.
For the Equal Rights Amendment North Carolina Citizens Task Force click to www.era-nc.org.
For more information about the ERA click to Bernadette Cahill’s current article in the Women’s News Network: http://womennewsnetwork.net/2012/06/27/women-out-of-touch-u-s-congress/.