In December 1923, a resolution was introduced in Congress that proposed amending the U.S. Constitution to guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex.

Simply stated, the resolution declared “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the U.S. or by any other State on account of sex.”

It was thought this law would eliminate distinctions between men and women in matters of divorce, property and employment, and begin to close the gender earnings gap, and provide economic aid for women who were likely to be widowed and left with little economic support.

One hundred years later, the Equal Rights Amendment remains in limbo. An effort in 2023 to bring the issue to closure pushed by the U.S. Senate failed passage on the U.S. House floor.

Back in 1978, Joint Resolution 638, which extended the deadline to ratify the ERA, passed the House and Senate. To amend the U.S. Constitution requires approval of 3/4 of the States. You may remember the struggle in 1919 to gain that approval to grant women the right to vote and the final approval by one vote in the state of Tennessee. The struggle for States’ approval of the ERA continued, finally gaining the desired 3/4 by the affirmative vote of Virginia in 2020. Still the holdouts … the Southern States … would argue that the ratification was after the designated date of 1982 and not valid. And yet, leaders all over the South, the same states that opposed women’s right to vote (and over 100 years ago, closed doors to higher education to women), brag about their gentlemanly protection of “their women,” and argue that the ERA would lose women their privileged protections of economic support from husbands, for themselves and their children.

At any rate, the ERA is still not a reality. According to research by the University of Michigan and Harvard, the gender earnings gap widens and discriminatory language that defines distinctions between men and women continue in state actions.

Alice Paul, an American Quaker and suffragist, born in 1887, pushed the right to vote and drafted the language for the ERA. Paul, who died in 1977, is a member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY. President Obama dedicated the Alva Belmont — Alice Paul Women’s Equality National Monument to her efforts for women’s equal rights. Still the fight goes on.

It took over 100 years for women to gain the right to vote in the United States. Perhaps next March, or some future March, American women will celebrate the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment that guarantees all American citizens equality of legal rights.

Ellen Moyer is a former mayor of Annapolis. She welcomes comments and idea sharing and can be contacted at [email protected].

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