The reaction I've heard most often to the bid to revive the Equal Rights Amendment is, "What? Didn't we put that in the Constitution years ago?"
No. The effort to constitutionally guarantee equal rights under the law for women as well as men has been a 92-year exercise in futility for the nation's feminists. The Minnesota Legislature ratified a proposed federal amendment in 1973, only to see that push fall three states short of the 38 required for the amendment's addition to the U.S. Constitution by the deadline set by Congress, June 30, 1982. Some historians mark that failure as the crest of the 20th century American women's movement.
A new wave appears to be rising, propelled by a new generation of women who seek the protection from workplace discrimination an ERA could provide. On March 5 the state Senate Judiciary Committee approved a resolution asking Congress to simply repeal the 1982 deadline. That would allow the 15 states that have yet to ratify the ERA to consider the question anew. Similar moves are afoot this year in legislatures around the country.
Significantly, the Senate panel's vote was unanimous. The willingness of Republicans to join DFLers in supporting the resolution raises hope that the partisan tinge the amendment acquired in the late 1970s may be fading.
As Republicans became allied with opponents of legalized abortion, they were susceptible to arguments that the ERA would keep abortion legal. It's now clear, 42 years after Roe v. Wade, that ample justification for legal abortion can be found in the U.S. Constitution without the ERA.
But some abortion foes remain suspicious of the ERA, which may explain why the GOP-controlled Minnesota House has yet to schedule a hearing on the ERA resolution that's awaiting action on the Senate floor. Neither body has acted on measures for an ERA addition to the state Constitution. It may take a push from House Republicans' constituents to show them that Minnesotans consider gender equality under the law important enough to be guaranteed in the state and national foundational charters.