ERA now, Murkowski says

Protestors converged on Tallahassee in 1982, just before the deadline fell. (Photo: Florida State Archives/Susanne Hunt)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is pushing to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was a top liberal goal in the 1970s. Murkowski acknowledged that it feels like a blast from the past.

“I think for most people, they think that the Equal Rights Amendment was ratified a long time ago,” she said.

The ERA says the government can’t discriminate on the basis of sex, and it has NOT been added to the Constitution. Back in March 1972, Congress passed it, and then it was up to the state legislatures to ratify.

“Alaska didn’t even wait a full month,” Murkowski said. “I’m pretty proud of us. Just sayin’. Ratified it in April.”

(That same year, 1972, Alaskans voted overwhelmingly to place a ban on gender discrimination in the state Constitution.)

But by 1982, only 35 states had ratified the ERA – three states shy of the number needed. That was deadline Congress imposed, so the effort seemed dead.

But then, in 2017 Nevada ratified it. Then Illinois.

Murkowski and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., have a new bill that would lift the deadline while proponents work to get one more state to sign on.

The issue was controversial back in the day.

“ERA is a big attack on the rights of the homemaker,” conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly said on “Good Morning America” in 1976. “The laws of every state make it the obligation of the husband to support his wife. To provide her with a home. To support their minor children.”

Many states, including Alaska, passed their own versions of the ERA, so laws did change. So did language. Now parents, regardless of gender, are obligated to support their children.

Some conservatives remain suspect of the ERA, arguing it will strengthen gay or transgender rights, or undermine the rights of churches.

Murkowski calls the amendment long overdue.

“What’s controversial about this?” she asked. “Saying that men and women are equal under the law. That shouldn’t be political.”

Proponents hoped Virginia will be the 38th and final state needed to ratify the amendment. That effort stumbled last week in a committee of the House of Delegates.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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