A new version of the ERA
By Beth Fouhy/CNN
August 25, 1999
Web posted at: 6:31 p.m. EDT (2231 GMT)
WASHINGTON -- With American women knocking down so many barriers in sports, entertainment, work and politics, is a new equal rights amendment to the Constitution necessary now?
"Because it's important. Laws can be reversed, Supreme Court decisions can be overturned, gender classifications can continue," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who has re-introduced the ERA in the House of Representatives, and garnered 150 co-sponsors so far.
An ERA for the 21st century may feel like an anachronism. But the last ERA battle took 10 years and virtually defined the women's movement of the 70s.
After sailing through the House and Senate in 1972, observers expected it to win easy ratification by the states.
But the movement stalled, and by the 1982 deadline, the amendment was ratified by 35 state legislatures, three states short of two-thirds required by the Constitution.
Seventeen years later, supporters still call the ERA an essential constitutional principle.
"It merely says, and I quote, 'equality of rights shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex," Maloney said.
And despite steady gains made by women in education, employment and the economy, supporters say an ERA is needed to protect those gains against a hostile Supreme Court or Congress.
But opponents remain ready to fight against another ERA.
"ERA means abortion funding, means homosexual privileges, means whatever else," said conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum.
Ironically, some of the arguments used to defeat the ERA last time have in fact been born out in states that have approved their own version of the ERA.
In Hawaii, the state's highest court used the ERA to uphold the right of same-sex couples to marry. However, a 1998 voter referendum overrode that decision.
Opponents also still say the ERA would effectively rob women of needed legal protections, including spousal support and child custody.
"You can say that there ought to be a law that says skin color doesn't matter. However, you can't say the same thing about the differences between men and women. Sex differences are not the same as skin color," said Anita Blair of the Independent Women's Forum.
But in the end, young women who weren't around for the first ERA battle may be a new ERA supporters' biggest challenge, convincing them that rather than just being a relic of the past, ERA offers women the ultimate level playing field.