The ERA: It’s Back

Women’s dearest possession is life,/And since it is given to her but once/She must live as to feel no torturing regret/For years without purpose,/So live as not to be scarred with the shame of /A cowardly and trivial past/So live that dying she can say:/All my life and all my strength /Was given to the finest cause in the world/The liberation of womankind.

-Alice Paul, 1885-1977, author of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923

This year is the 90th anniversary of women winning the right to vote. It’s mind boggling to think that there are people in this country alive today who actually experienced a time when women could not vote. Extraordinary.

I was moved beyond words by the movie Iron Jawed Angels, which focuses on suffrage leader Alice Paul’s fight to win this most basic of rights. The beatings, the forced feedings, the tireless, backbreaking work to convince congressmen one by one to vote for women’s suffrage. Having seen that movie and the sacrifices these women made for me, I will never, never, not vote again.

Alice Paul’s vision of  liberation for womankind extended beyond suffrage. In 1923, she introduced the Equal Rights Amendmendment:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”

As we know, her amendment has had a long and torturous history. But unknown to many of us is that the ERA was introduced (yet again) in the House in 2009, sponsored by Democrat Carolyn Maloney of N.Y. and Republican Judy Biggert of Illinois. According to an editorial in our local newspaper, “The National Women’s Political Caucus is putting the ERA on a fast-track campaign. Now with the Internet, we have a shot at going viral with social media.”*

This is thrilling to me. Because the bottom line for me is that I want women’s right to equal treatment under the law written into the Constitution. I realize that the courts will have to go back and figure out exactly what this “equality of rights” means, but they have to do that all the time anyway under anti-discrimination laws. Let women’s full humanity be cemented into our nation’s most foundational document, and let the courts work from there.

* “A New ERA” by Ellen Snortland in the Pasadena Star News.


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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15 Responses

  1. jeans says:

    Hopefully the resurrection of this venerable amendment won’t also bring back the highly divisive LDS response that characterized the 1970s. What we forget is that the amendment was supported by Church leaders including several successive General RS presidents, as a total no-brainer common-sense statement because of the deep and vocal commitment of LDS women to making voting rights an essential part of US citizenship regardless of sex. Once women got the vote and once 2nd wave feminism came along and once the subtext of the ERA seemed somehow socially radical instead of simply being about voting, then Church support eroded for it and in LDS rhetoric it became the demon amendment and harbinger of the downfall of American civilization, and to be a good Mormon you had to oppose it. But there is historical precedent for being a good Mormon and favoring it, which we would do well to remember and celebrate.

    • Josh says:

      I don’t think the Church will make the same mistake twice. Their stance on the ERA now appears pretty out of touch – maybe like their current position on gay marriage?

      • Craig says:

        I wouldn’t be so sure. As you say, they made the same mistake with gay rights. And not a lot has changed for women in the church since the 70s.

      • Caroline says:

        I think (wishful thinking?) that the Church wouldn’t throw its might behind anti-ERA efforts again. Particularly so right now since it’s still smarting from the backlash because of its involvement in Prop 8.

    • Caroline says:

      Jeans, Having read some of the feisty comments from Mormon women leaders in the Women’s Exponent, I can well believe that they would have been behind the ERA.

  2. Jessawhy says:

    I would love to see the ERA passed.

    Out of curiosity, Caroline, do you know how often the ERA amendment has been introduced since it failed to pass the first time?
    I’m just wondering if this is something new and exciting or if this is something that they re-introduce every year and it never goes anywhere.

    • Carolyn says:

      Yes, Maloney’s bill has been reintroduced year after year and ignored. What is so exciting about a fast track to start ERA all over again for 38 states when women already achieved 35?

      Do you think men would accept starting all over again when they were 92% of the way there? Where is the momentum or the money to wage a 38-state campaign?

      There is a real strategy at the grassroots level to honor our foremothers and the movement of the 197os. We aren’t agreeing to starting all over again. It’s high time to finish-what-was-started!

      United For Equality is spearheading a brand new and exciting resolution that we, citizens initiated. We lobbied Congress for one year and successfully secured a House sponsor to remove the time limit on ERA, so that the final three states can ratify this amendment as the 28th to the US Constitution by 2015.

      Join our campaign and spread the word. There is a very clear choice to be made for ERA – Hit the reset button or finish what was started. FB: unitedforequality; Twitter:united4equality;

  3. Jenne says:

    I’m wary of this and not looking forward to the potential backlash that might be similar to what happened in the 70’s. The only thing that would help me feel safe is to hear President Monson not condemn it and until he or the First Presidency issues a statement on it, I’ll be praying that the official church stance has changed.

    • Caroline says:

      I hope it’s changed too. As I mentioned above, I just can’t see the Church wading into this quagmire. Not after the mess of Prop 8.

  4. Margaret says:

    The ERA has been introduced every single year since 1923. I seriously doubt that it’s going anywhere this year.

    I’m always of two minds about the ERA. I realize that, as a feminist, it would traditionally be a given for me to support it. I wish it had passed back in 1923. Because now, to me, it sounds redundant and condescending. The 14th Amendment already protects all my rights. And to have a group of mostly white men tell me that, as of today, I’m an equal citizen under the law, would irk me.

    • Caroline says:

      I wish that it had passed in 1923 too. There are, apparently, reasons beyond the symbolic for passing the ERA. Something to do with strict scrutiny vs. skeptical scrutiny when it comes to discrimination cases. See
      for more info on it.

      Though honestly, for me, even if the ERA didn’t change much in how the courts decide things, the principle of it is enough for me to want it to pass. I believe that women should have equality of rights under the law, and I’d love to see that affirmed in our Constitution.

  5. The picture is Emmeline Pankhurst, suffragette and teacher of Alice Paul. It was taken in London.
    I hope you will see the website for current information.
    you might enjoy the new ERA campaign, see the PSA at
    launched by

  1. September 12, 2010

    […] real Mormons?) Molly offers a list of small changes that would be a good starting point. Oh, and the ERA is back. In other questions about women’s roles, some SAHMs are feeling angsty about the cushiness of […]

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