Nearly a century after it was introduced to Congress, the Equal Rights Amendment is closer to passage than seemed possible just a few years ago. And the state that might make history as the 38th to ratify the constitutional amendment — 47 years after Congress passed it — is Arizona.
Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 and sent it to the states for ratification. But only California and 34 other states ratified it by the June 1982 deadline set by Congress, leaving it three short of the required three-fourths. And five of them have since voted to rescind their support.
The deadline and the rescissions are hurdles that ERA supporters will ultimately have to overcome. Nevertheless, in 2017, the ERA was suddenly back in the news when the Nevada Legislature ratified it. Last year, Illinois did the same, a fitting tribute to women’s rights in the #MeToo era.
Afterward, ERA supporters turned their attention to states that hadn’t yet ratified. Virginia seemed poised to be 38th, but passage failed last month by one vote. Now, it’s Arizona’s turn. So far, a ratification vote has been blocked by the thin Republican majority. But ERA supporters are using every option to force a vote, which they think they will win, before the session ends in April.
Good luck to them. We hope Arizona’s Republicans get out of the way and let legislators vote — if not for women, then at least for the sake of their own political careers. The Grand Canyon State might have been staunchly conservative for decades, but Arizonans have been leaning liberal in recent elections. In November, for example, Democrats came within spitting distance of parity on the Arizona Legislature, and Kyrsten Sinema was the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate from Arizona in 30 years. (Sinema also happens to be the first woman to represent the state in the Senate, and is the body’s first openly bisexual member.)
Opponents of the ERA say that this ’70s-era amendment proposal has been rendered unnecessary in modern times because courts have extended constitutional protections to women. If it’s redundant and merely symbolic, then why the fierce opposition to a ratification vote? Because there are still forms of discrimination against women that the 14th Amendment may not protect against but an ERA would. The amendment would also be a bulwark against any diminution of the rights women have won thus far.
We hope that Arizona gets a chance to join its neighboring states and vote for ratification. Doing so would not only be the right thing to do, it would allow the ERA to move on to the next critical stage of debate: whether Congress can extend the 1982 deadline retroactively, and whether the states that withdrew their ratification votes had the constitutional authority to do so.