HALF A CENTURY ago the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution seemed like a good idea. Such a good idea, in fact, that it was adopted by an overwhelming vote of 354-24 in the US House of Representatives and by an equally lopsided 84-8 in the Senate five months later.
Those votes easily surmounted the Constitution's requirement that an amendment win two-thirds support in each house of Congress, so on March 22, 1972 — 48 years ago this Sunday — the ERA was submitted to the state legislatures for ratification. If three-fourths (38) of the states approved the amendment within the specified seven-year deadline, the ERA would be added to the Constitution.
At first, seven years appeared to be far more time than the amendment needed. Within two weeks, 10 states had ratified the ERA; within two years, 33 states had signed on. But by then, enthusiasm for the amendment had waned. A 34th state, North Dakota, said yes to the ERA in 1975. A 35th state, Indiana, did so in 1977. No other states ratified the amendment — and four states rescinded their ratifications — before the clock ran out in 1979.
The ERA was dead. Yet some of its ardent proponents insisted that, like Monty Python's parrot, it was merely resting. . . .