Actresses Patricia Arquette and Alyssa Milano joined House Democrat leaders on Tuesday to call on Congress to move forward with the long-stalled Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and revive it for ratification.
At a congressional hearing, the actresses, newly elected representatives, and speakers from women’s rights organizations argued that their rights as women are not equally protected in the Constitution and, in many cases, they do not enjoy the same rights as men do in the US.
“On the outside, you think that when you look at America women have equal rights,” Arquette said. “But when you start picking it apart — at all the ways women are falling through the cracks — you start to think maybe we aren’t really equal?”
The United States is the only developed country in the world that does not explicitly guarantee equal rights for women in its constitution. The ERA is a proposed amendment that would guarantee equal rights for all citizens regardless of sex in the Constitution.
The ERA was first proposed by the National Women’s political party in 1923 to guarantee legal equality for both sexes and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. It took more than four decade to reach the floors of Congress, powered by the second wave of feminism in the 1960s.
And even though it passed through the House and Senate with bipartisan support, it failed to acquire the minimum support required for ratification — a passing vote from 38 states — falling short by only three votes.
The bill originally had a deadline for consideration, which lapsed in 1982. But since then, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), a sponsor of the bill, has introduced legislation that would eliminate the deadline and make it possible for the ERA to be added to the constitution once a 38th state ratifies it.
“Ratification will make sure that all people, no matter where we fall on the spectrum of gender identity, will have sovereignty over our own bodies, at home and in the doctor’s office,” Milano said.
Since 2017, Nevada and Illinois, have joined the list of states that have recently ratified the ERA, raising the number of states to 37 — requiring just one more ratification to amend the constitution.
The amendment will also aid lawmakers who are often held back in efforts to advance gender equality by the lack of codified language in the Constitution to support women’s rights.
The ERA would make it easier for lawmakers and lawyers to bring forth cases addressing unequal pay, discrimination, and harassment in courts.
“In some states today, women must be forced to co-parent with their convicted rapists,” Arquette said.
“In 98% of all jobs, women are paid less. There are 4 million women over 65 who are living in poverty, and 2.5 million children would be lifted out of poverty if the wage gap were corrected. These are just a few examples of how systemic bias against women is expressed in America. Why? Because women don’t have the same value in our country.”
Also present at the hearing was Sen. Pat Spearman (D-NV), who led the ratification efforts in her state.
“People who were born in privilege always debate whether those of us who were not deserve equality,” she said. “Equality is not debatable.”
The proposed legislation received pushback from Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA), who said that ratifying the amendment would conflict with “the people’s right to protect the unborn,” and that giving equal rights to women would also give them reproductive rights.
Though he added that “of course, we all believe women should be protected from discrimination.”
Johnson’s comments were met with great pushback from advocates who argued that reproductive rights and basic equal rights are separate issues and that including equal rights in national legislation hasn’t changed some nations’ reproductive health care laws.
“Some have called the ERA just a symbol. Keep in mind that symbols are important. Yes, it is a symbol,” Rep. Maloney said. “But women need much, much more than a symbol.”
“We need respect. We need fairness. And we need to be in the Constitution,” she added.