House Votes to Extend Deadline to Ratify Equal Rights Amendment

House Votes to Extend Deadline to Ratify Equal Rights Amendment

WASHINGTON — House Democrats on Thursday moved to enshrine the decades-old Equal Rights Amendment into the Constitution, reviving a long-simmering cultural debate over whether the nation’s founding charter should guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of sex.

But the vote, to extend a deadline for ratification that expired in 1982, was largely symbolic. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has said he is “not a supporter” of the measure — known as the E.RA. — and is highly unlikely to take it up in the Senate.

And the Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a longtime supporter of the E.R.A. who spent her early years as a lawyer fighting for its passage, may have delivered a death knell to the effort this week, when she urged supporters to set aside their long-running campaign for ratification and start over.

“I would like to see a new beginning,” Justice Ginsburg said during an event at the Georgetown University Law Center on Monday. “I’d like it to start over. There’s too much controversy about latecomers.”

The amendment is also mired in lawsuits. The attorneys general of Alabama, Louisiana and South Dakota filed suit in December opposing ratification. But the attorneys general of Virginia, Nevada and Illinois filed suit last month to force the amendment to be added to the Constitution.

Thursday’s House vote came 100 years after women won the right to vote, and 48 years after Congress first approved the E.R.A. in 1972, setting a deadline of 1979 for ratification. When only 35 states had ratified it by 1979, Congress extended the deadline to 1982. But that deadline, too, passed with just 37 states — one short of the required 38 — having voted to ratify the amendment, amid an intense campaign led by Phyllis Schlafly, a proudly anti-feminist Republican to block it.

Last month, Virginia became the 38th state, which prompted Thursday’s move to approve the deadline extension. It passed by a vote of 232-183, almost entirely along party lines.

Just five Republicans — Representatives John Curtis of Utah, Rodney Davis of Illinois, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Tom Reed of New York and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — joined all Democrats in voting in favor.

Many Democratic women wore purple to the House floor to debate and cast their votes on the measure, in a nod to the purple sashes worn by the suffragists over their white outfits.

“Millions of American women still face inequality under the law and injustice in their careers and lives,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a speech before the vote. “It’s not just about women, it’s about America. The E.R.A. will strengthen America, unleashing the full power of women in our economy and upholding the value of equality in our democracy.”

Republican opponents argued the amendment is unnecessary, because the 14th Amendment already guarantees equal treatment for all citizens under the law. They noted that five states — Nebraska, Tennessee, Idaho, Kentucky and South Dakota — had tried to rescind their ratification votes in the 1970s.

And they warned that it would result in the expansion of abortion rights.

Students for Life, which organizes college students around opposition to abortion, also waged a call-in campaign, urging members to lobby their representatives to oppose the amendment.

“The Equal Rights Amendment is nothing to do about equal rights and everything about abortion, that’s why we call it the ‘Everything Related to Abortion’ act,” the group said on its website. “The E.R.A. is simply a Trojan Horse for taxpayer-funded abortion on demand, and abortion advocates are openly admitting it.”

To that, Ms. Pelosi said: “Women should not have the same status of equality as men? This has nothing to do with abortion issue. That’s an excuse, it’s not a reason.”

The text of the Equal Rights Amendment is simple: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It was first proposed in 1923 by Alice Paul, a leader of the suffrage movement. But it took nearly 50 years for it to pass both houses of Congress.

The amendment picked up steam, getting 22 of the necessary 38 ratifications in the first year. But after that, the ratification movement ran into staunch resistance led by Ms. Schlafly, and by 1976, it had fizzled.

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