House Votes to Clear the Way for the ERA in the Constitution: Feminists React

Mar 18, 2021
In The News

Members of the House Democratic Women’s Caucus gather on the Capitol steps after voting to remove the arbitrary deadline on ERA. (Ike Hayman)

Members of the House Democratic Women’s Caucus gather on the Capitol steps after voting to remove the arbitrary deadline on ERA. (Ike Hayman)

On Wednesday, by a vote of 222-204, the U.S. House passed H.J. Res 17a bipartisan joint resolution introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) to remove an arbitrary timeline for ERA ratification. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have introduced an identical resolution in the Senate.

“Now we are one Senate floor vote away from adding the ERA into the Constitution so that our generation and all future generations will not face persistent sex discrimination, but rather will have new opportunities under the law,” said Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and long-time ERA leader.

“It’s past time for a true, living equality for women of color and all women in this country,” said Kimberly Peeler-Allen, ERA Coalition board chair. “This House vote gets us one step closer to that ultimate goal. As we look forward to a vote in the Senate, we’re grateful for the work of Representatives Speier (D-Calif.) and Reed (R-N.Y.), and for the leadership of Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) in getting this bill to the floor.”

ERA supporters in Congress wore white, with green ERA YES buttons.

Despite Republican opposition, the ERA is extremely popular: 94 percent of the public supports the Equal Rights Amendment, including 99 percent among Millennials and Generation Z.

“Passing the Equal Rights Amendment will create essential avenues of legal recourse for people who face discrimination under the laws on the basis of sex,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her floor speech in support of the joint resolution to remove the time limit for ERA ratification.

“It will ensure that the Supreme Court applies the same standard of review for sex discrimination cases as it applies to cases of discrimination based on race and national origin. It will help Congress pass laws for better legal protections against injustice, including those related to sexual assault, domestic violence and paycheck fairness, or unfairness. And it will confirm the rightful place of gender equality in all aspects of life.”

Carol Jenkins, CEO and president of the ERA Coalition/Fund for Women’s Equality, expressed appreciation for House leadership on the measure:

“The House’s quick, bipartisan passage of the time limit removal bill on the Equal Rights Amendment shows that women’s equality is a priority for this Congress, and that it should not have a time limit. … We’re looking forward to our next step on the way to equality for all: passage in the Senate.”

“We’re sending a strong message that equality does not have a deadline,” said Rep. Brenda Lawrence, co-chair of the Democratic Women’s Caucus.

Four Republicans voted in favor of the measure—Utah’s John Curtis, Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick, and Tom Reed and Nicole Malliotakis of New York—joined by 218 Democrats. Rep. Jackie Speier celebrated the bipartisan vote in favor of the ERA: 

“Today, the House of Representatives sent a strong message with its vote to pass my bipartisan resolution to facilitate the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Members from both sides of the aisle, including our inimitable Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, took a stand against more than 200 years of sex discrimination and affirmed that there can be no expiration date on equality.

“Once again, we have made it clear that progress and justice cannot be stopped and that righteousness still prevails in our proud democracy. For those who still question the need for the ERA, they need look no further than the gender wage gap that continues to keep women and families from achieving their full potential, pregnancy discrimination that forces women out of the workforce, persistent and insidious violations of the rights of survivors, and more.”

The ERA Will Make Women’s Lives Better

At a press conference after the passage of the joint resolution, Rep. Carolyn Maloney argued that the ERA will help fight violence against women and pay inequity:

“In 1994, Congress included the right to sue one’s attacker in VAWA. But, when a woman named Christy Brzonkala tried to exercise that right, the Supreme Court dismissed her case and deemed the provision unconstitutional. Women must be in the Constitution to enforce their rights to sue to protect themselves.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing the effects of gender inequality during the pandemic. With both more reports of domestic violence [and] greater wage and unemployment disparities between men and women. An estimated one million more women than men have lost their jobs since the COVID pandemic was declared a year ago. And the biggest impact of the virus has been on the vast majority of essential workers, most of whom are women and [a disproportionate] number of Black women and Latinas, nearly all whom have the majority of caregiving responsibilities. These trends, along with other tragic realities, make Constitutional rights for women more urgent than ever.”

 

Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) pointed out how the pandemic has exacerbated existing gender equalities, as women have lots jobs at an alarming rate (one million more jobs than men in the U.S.), rates of domestic violence have soared, and reproductive health care barriers have increased:

“While we currently celebrate the first female Vice President and a record number of women in Congress, women’s rights in America remain unprotected in the Constitution. The pandemic further exposed and exacerbated the equities women face and if we are going to correct these injustices, we need to start by guaranteeing equal protection under the law. This is our moment to cement equality into our founding document, ensure that we never take a step backward, and continue our march toward a more perfect union. Today, the House rightly proclaimed that there is no timeline on equality.”

Young People Supporting the ERA

Young people were also celebrating the victory. The Feminist Front, a youth of color-led organization fighting for gender and racial justice, mobilized supporters to call, write and contact their Congressional representatives to support House Joint Resolution 17.

“Women of color and immigrant women stand to gain most in the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). They also have been the driving force behind it in communities on the ground,” said 24-year-old Feminist Front organizer Yasmeen Obeid. “We are generation gender justice and we will be the generation that ratifies the Equal Rights Amendment,” said organizer Sophia Armen.

A Historical Milestone

Several ERA supporters remembered women’s long fight for equality. Feminists have been fighting for the Equal Rights Amendment for close to 100 years and for equality for much longer. 

“Sojourner Truth was among the women who met in Akron, Ohio to demand equal rights for women in 1851,” said Elise Bryant, executive director of Labor Heritage. “170 years later we are still waiting for the passage of the ERA. As the saying goes, ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’ 170 years is a long time, but the time for justice and passage of the ERA will not expire! The Coalition of Labor Union Women join with women across the U.S. to thank our members of Congress for passing HJ Res 17, the bill to remove the time limit from the ERA. Equal rights for women means justice for all.”

Rep. Veronica Escobar said, “Since our nation’s inception, women have been arbitrarily left out of our Constitution. Today, I voted for #ERANOW to finally affirm women’s equality and combat everyday discrimination against women in El Paso and across America.”

White House Support

President Joseph Biden expressed his long-time support for the ERA in a statement issued yesterday applauding the House passage of the ERA resolution:

“When Congress first sent the Equal Rights Amendment to the states for ratification, I was a 29-year-old first-time Senate candidate. As a young Senator, as now, it was a simple proposition for me — fighting for the ERA was about fighting for the dignity of women, and for the dignity of our nation. Nearly 50 years later, it is long past time that we enshrine the principle of gender equality in our Constitution.

“Gender equality is not only a moral issue. The full participation of women and girls across all aspects of our society is essential to our economic prosperity, our security, and the health of our democracy. This is especially critical right now, as the collision of a public health crisis, economic crisis, and caregiving crisis has erased decades of women’s economic gains and pushed more women out of the American workforce than we’ve seen in more than 30 years.”

ERA: Now onto the Senate!

Many ERA supporters urged the Senate to vote now in favor of the ERA. 

Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and long-time ERA leader, urged feminist to act now:”

“It’s time for supporters everywhere to write, call, text, email and meet with their Senators. 2021 can be the year that women are included in the Constitution with the ERA as the 28th Amendment.” 

Take Action on the Equal Rights Amendment

To take action now in support of the ERA, head over to erayes2021.org where you can directly contact your U.S. legislators, share your ERA story, and find an ERA Toolkit with ready-to-post social media images and other advocacy resources.