Equal Rights Amendment
On March 22, 1972, the federal government sent the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the individual states for ratification. The ERA sought to make gender discrimination a violation of the United States Constitution. The ERA stated:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
In every year since 1923, ERA supporters had submitted a similar amendment to the United States Senate and House of Representatives for approval. It took until 1972 for both houses of Congress to approve the ERA and to send it to the states for ratification.
For a constitutional amendment to go into effect, three-fourths of the states must ratify it. In the case of the ERA, thirty-eight out of fifty states needed to approve the amendment. The U.S. Congress gave the states seven years to ratify the amendment. Between 1972 and 1974, thirty-four states, including Ohio, approved the ERA. Unfortunately, by the deadline in 1979, only thirty-five states had ratified the amendment. The federal government extended the ratification deadline three more years, until 1982, but no additional state approved the amendment. The ERA, thus, fell short by three states. The states that did not ratify the ERA included Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.
Many men and women supported the ERA, and many men and women opposed it. Supporters believed that all people in the United States deserved constitutional guarantees of their rights, including women. Opponents sometimes claimed that women were physically and intellectually subordinate to men. Other times, opponents cited a fear that women would now be eligible for the draft. They sometimes contended that the ERA’s passage would lead to the demise of the American family, as women might be prohibited, through some unknown means, from remaining at home and caring for the family.
In Ohio, many people objected to the constitutional amendment. Chief among these people were union members, including members of the AFL-CIO, who feared that equal rights for women would hurt wages and benefits for male workers. Eventually women union members placed enough pressure on the men to support the ERA. Unionized workers even organized a protest at the Ohio Statehouse in support of the ERA. Other Ohio women objected to the ERA because they did not believe women would be happy with equal rights with men. One of these women was Marabel Morgan, who, in 1973, authored a book titled Total Woman. In this book, Morgan argued that women would be happiest as housewives, caring for their husbands and families. Only if women dedicated their lives to these tasks would they be totally happy. Many men serving in state legislatures used Morgan’s book as evidence that many women supposedly did not support the ERA, hurting the amendment’s chances of ratification.
For the past several decades various groups have continued to fight for the ERA’s ratification, and various representatives and senators have reintroduced the ERA in every session of the United States Congress. As of 2006, the U.S. Constitution still had no explicit provisions prohibiting gender discrimination. Since the ERA’s failure, at least twenty states have enacted their own laws guaranteeing women equal protections under the law with men. Ohio is not one of those states.
- Mathews, Donald G., and Jane S. De Hart. Sex, Gender, and the Politics of ERA: A State and the Nation. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992.