Suffragists first introduced what became the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to Congress in 1923. The amendment would guarantee equal legal rights for all citizens, regardless of sex.
Almost half a century later, Congress passed the proposed amendment and gave states until 1979 to ratify it. Three-fourths of the states have to pass an amendment before it can be added to the U.S. Constitution. Congress later extended that deadline to 1982. But only 35 states approved the ERA by that new deadline — three short of the required threshold.
But renewed interest in the ERA has given advocates hope. In 2017 Nevada ratified the amendment, and in 2018 Illinois followed suit. Could North Carolina become the 38th state to ratify pushing the amendment toward Constitutional enshrinement?
Host Frank Stasio talks to Senator Terry Van Duyn, who co-sponsored legislation for North Carolina to ratify the ERA. She is a Democratic lawmaker who represents District 49, which includes Buncombe County and other parts of Western North Carolina.
Joanna Wade, co-president of the ERA-NC Alliance, joins the conversation to talk about why North Carolina should ratify the amendment. And Andrew Schlafly shares why his organization opposes the Equal Rights Amendment. He is the constitutional attorney for Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, and the son of conservative activist and ERA opponent Phyllis Schlafly.
Stasio also talks to Angela Robbins about the history of the ERA, nationally and in North Carolina. Robbins is an associate professor of history at Meredith College.
Senator Van Duyn on why she co-sponsored ERA ratification legislation:
The big issue for me is economic equality. What we know is that women, on average, make 80 percent what a man makes. And that means that they don't have the resources they need to feed their families [or] to buy shoes for their children. And that difference compounds year after year, which means at the end of their careers, they have less in their retirement accounts or less money from Social Security. And that's a fundamental inequality that we need to fix.
Wade on why she says the ERA is necessary:
We need the Equal Rights Amendment because there's nothing in the Constitution that provides for constitutional equality between men and women. It just doesn't exist. And so with 24 simple words, we would write into the constitution the provision that equality of the rights under the law shall not be denied, or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The ERA would fill a gap that's lacking in the constitution and in the decisions that interpret it, and would also enshrine this principle of constitutional equality in the Constitution itself — this core document that sets forth ideas and foundational principles that we hold as a nation.
Schlafly on why he thinks the ERA would affect the balance of power in the government:
ERA would transfer authority to the federal government over many family law related issues that are currently handled exclusively by the states. So issues of marriage, child custody, divorce — all sorts of those sort of local issues that state legislators currently have exclusive control over — that can all transfer to Congress under ERA because ERA gives Congress the power to enact legislation with respect to differences between men and women and how those are handled. So there'd be a huge transfer of power from local control over these gender issues to federal control in DC.
Robbins on the early days of Equal Rights Amendment legislation:
There were a lot of women who opposed it. And the reason they opposed it is because there were many women who were labor activists who had been fighting for a long time for protection under the law for women. So in other words, a different status for women workers than men. Definitely not equality. And they had gained those protective labor legislations. And they said to Alice Paul and other women who supported the Equal Rights Amendment: We’re going to lose those protections, women will no longer have those. Now, that's a big deal in the 1920s and the 1930s, before New Deal legislation.
Robbins on ERA opposition from rural women in North Carolina:
They baked bread and baked pies and came in with a very different message that probably confused a lot of the legislators. Here are legislators who had been talking to ERA supporters for a while. They'd heard the logic behind the ERA supporters’ message. And now they were getting women coming at them with a very different message. And so it was stopping some of them dead in their tracks to say: Well, I thought women wanted this, now I'm hearing that women don't want this. And it created a really interesting situation where some men who had decided they were going to vote for it, were now deciding they weren't going to vote for it. And some of them were reluctant to share that with the ERA supporters. But that's, in the end, what happens.