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ERA: Three states more

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  When you're competing against the clock for the Grand Prize, you may not win, but at least you're entitled to your previous winnings.

Not so with the Equal Rights Amendment. Congress gave women the nod they were due, but their blessing came with a seven-year hitch.  Constitutional equality was an all-or-nothing proposition to be achieved within seven years. Considering it took 72 years to obtain a right to vote, a time limit for all other rights was doomed to fail.

ERA was first introduced in 1923 by Alice Paul, a Republican, lawyer and courageous suffragist – who was imprisoned, tortured and force-fed to obtain the vote for women. ERA was essential to acquire all other legal, economic, social and political privileges that were customarily the birthright of men only.

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

Forty-seven years of stagnation prompted 20 courageous Pittsburgh NOW members to disrupt a Senate hearing with homemade signs demanding immediate action on ERA. Civil disobedience could have led to their arrest but ultimately freed ERA from congressional stalemate by an overwhelming majority in 1972.

ERA attracted over 450 organizations. People from all walks of life lobbied, petitioned, raced, marched, rallied, picketed and boycotted for its passage. It was favored by a majority of Americans, scoring an impressive 67 percent in a nationwide survey. Women's groups pressed for an extension but were granted only three more years. Despite 35 states approving ERA, it fell three states short of becoming the 27th Amendment. On June 30, 1982, the campaign launched by Congress was ended by Congress.

Does a human's right to equality expire?

My friend's husband told me he supports ERA as long as he doesn't lose his "perks." ERA doesn't apply to the private lives of individuals or business. ERA would eliminate sex discriminatory laws while expanding beneficial laws to both sexes equally. It guarantees that the full range of opportunities exists for all individuals based on their talents, capabilities and preferences, and not limited by gender or stereotype. 

Will women earn equal pay for equal work? Will public policies provide greater flexibility for parents struggling to balance work and family?  Will government be held accountable to eliminate sex-based hate crimes such as rape and domestic violence? At what point will the FCC and FTC determine that violent, hate-filled images and lyrics directed at women and girls cross the line of entertainment and free speech to jeopardize peace and security? ERA is the foundation to begin to address these questions.

In exile for 27 years, ERA is finally making a comeback.  In 2009, Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and Louisiana reintroduced the federal ERA. All five attempts were defeated. How can a handful of legislators control the interests of 157 million women?  

Article 5 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to amend the ratification process. Will Congress hit the reset button on ERA and require all 38 states again or use its powers to jump-start the ratification process for the final three states needed?

With an economy struggling to get back on track, beginning a nationwide ERA campaign requiring 38 states is both unrealistic and unnecessary. Congress should give women a head start and a fighting chance by accepting the 35 states that have already approved ERA and allow us to target the three last states necessary to take that victory lap in 2015.

Carolyn Cook is the founder of United For Equality, LLC and the Washington representative for the ERA Campaign Network. This article was distributed by the American Forum.

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