On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing to discuss the Equal Rights Amendment, which aims to confirm something you probably thought was already established: the legal equality between men and women. Actresses and politicians alike appeared before the committee to point out just how unbelievable it is that this conversation is still taking place, centuries after the Constitution was first written. The Equal Rights Amendment hearing quotes from these activists serve as a critical reminder that, shockingly, women still don’t have equal protection under the law in 2019.
The Equal Rights Amendment, also known as the ERA, was first proposed in 1923, but it didn’t officially pass into law until 1972. Unfortunately, the bill was never ratified because it didn’t receive the support of at least 38 states at the time. Ratification is a required process for any proposed change or amendment to the Constitution; at least 75% of states have to approve the change within a certain amount of time, otherwise the change is rendered inactive. That initial deadline passed in 1978.
o lawmakers face some central challenges in the push to ratify the ERA, once and for all. First, the House will have to pass H.J. Res. 35, which would restart the ratification process. Second, lawmakers will likely have to deal with a number of legal battles opponents might raise, including issues related to the ratification deadline, the impact of Supreme Court precedent through the years, and more. It’s worth noting that there are pair of resolutions already introduced in the House and Senate which aim to remove the ratification deadline and renew consideration of the ERA, called H.J. Res 38 and S.J. Res. 6, respectively.
According to CBS News, Rep. Carolyn Maloney introduced H.J. Res 35 in January. On Tuesday, Maloney said that the ERA Hearing, which was the first of its kind in 36 years, is proof of the power of a Democratic majority in Congress. Per CBS News, she argued,
This hearing is long overdue. It’s an example of what a Democratic majority in Congress means today. We have an extraordinary responsibility and opportunity to seize this moment.
Though Maloney is the sponsor of the ERA legislation in the House, there’s sponsorship for a similar effort in the Senate, as well: Sen. Bob Menendez introduced S.J. Res. 15 on March 27. The resolution has the same goal of restarting the ratification process for the amendment.
Here are some of the key quotes from the ERA hearing, which highlight why the government needs to ratify the amendment:
“Women Have Waited 232 Years To Be Enshrined As Full And Equal Citizens.”
Actress Patricia Arquette gave the opening statement at the hearing on Tuesday. According to The Hill, Arquette has made several visits to D.C. in recent years to push for the ratification of the ERA.
On Tuesday, she said in part, “Women have waited 232 years to be enshrined as full and equal citizens. Why? Because, in 1787, women were left out of the Constitution intentionally.” You can watch her opening statement in full above.
“Discrimination Is Not Prevented Against Women In The U.S. Constitution.”
While speaking at the ERA hearing, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) said in part,
Nations around the world have looked to the us to model their constitutions & have recognized the need for women’s equality, yet we fail to do the same. It is frankly an embarrassment…Discrimination is not prevented against women in the US Constitution.
“Equality Is Not Debatable, We Are Born With It.”
During the hearing, Sen. Pat Spearman (D-NV) was one of many individuals to speak on behalf of the ERA. She said in part, “Equality is not debatable, we are born with it. All we are asking is for it to be recognized.”
“Not Having The ERA Has Real Consequences For Real Women.”
While speaking at the hearing, Maloney said at one point, “Women need respect. We need fairness. And we need to be in the constitution. Not having the ERA has real consequences for real women.”
” … More Women Retire Below The National Poverty Level Than Men.”
At another point during Sen. Spearman’s speech at the hearing, she said, “Pay inequity often means women, who are the income earners, work more than one job, have less time to spend helping their children have academic success, and more women retire below the national poverty level than men.”
It’s true. According to the Economic Policy Institute, women over 65 years old are much more likely to live in poverty than men. For example, the institute reports that 17% of women between the ages of 70–79 are in poverty, while men in this age groups have a poverty rate of 11%, respectively.
“I Would Like My Granddaughters, When They Pick Up The Constitution, To See That Notion … “
When Rep. Steve Cohen spoke at the hearing, he called to mind the words of one particularly well-known feminist icon: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg has spoken out in favor of the ERA on a number of occasions in the past.
On Tuesday, Cohen cited a particular quote of Ginsburg’s from 2014: “…I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion – that women and men are persons of equal stature – I’d like them to see that is a basic principle of our society.”
” … 96 Years Later, The United States Constitution Still Does Not Explicitly Declare That Women Have Equal Rights.”
During his speech, Rep. Jerry Nadler cited the original writer of the Equal Rights Amendment, suffragist Alice Paul. Nadler said, “Alice Paul’s #EqualRightsAmendment was introduced in both houses of Congress in 1923… [but] the United States Constitution still does not explicitly declare that women have equal rights under the law.”
Nadler continued, “If women were to achieve true equality, our nation’s founding document needed to be amended to reflect that core principle.”
“Although Women Have Achieved Some … Equal Status Under The 14th Amendment, That Progress Is Fragile.”
During his speech, Cohen also acknowledged the partial protection that women receive through the 14th Amendment. Though the amendment does say that all people born in the U.S. are “citizens of the United States” and deserve equal protections under the law, it makes no mention of women, specifically. As a result, it’s often been left up to interpretation, to the direct detriment of the women’s rights movement.
Cohen said in part,
Although women have achieved some … equal status under the 14th amendment, that progress is fragile. As the @USSupremeCourt has moved to the right, it could backtrack some fundamental decisions … and jeopardize the many strides that women have made….There are dark currents in our politics and culture seeking to undermine women’s status in our society, whether it is by threatening their healthcare, objectifying women in the workplace, or ignoring or even condoning gender-based violence.
“We Will No Longer Allow Ourselves To Be An Afterthought.”
At another point during her speech at the hearing, Speier said, “We will no longer allow ourselves to be an afterthought. We need the #ERANow.”
Though the hearing represents a step in the right direction, the ERA still has a long way to go before ratification. Both the House and the Senate will first have to pass that bill, then the ratification process for the states (along with any potential legal battles) will start again in earnest.
To show your support for ratification, you can contact your representatives in the House and the Senate and encourage them to support the bill. Specifically, you can remind them that the Constitution still does not expressly guarantee gender equality — and until that happens, the push for women’s equality will remain incomplete.
Correction: A previous version of this story mischaracterized House legislation concerning the ERA. It has been updated to accurately reflect the legislation.