You are on page 1of 7

Argueta-Cabrera 1

Johanna Argueta-Cabrera

Professor Benter

History 132

16 April 2019

Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed in 1923 by the National Women’s

political party to create equality for the sexes and prohibit discrimination. It was officially passed

by the U.S Senate on March 22, 1972 and sent to the states for ratification. The amendment’s

purpose was to end distinctions between the genders in terms of property, employment, divorce,

and other matters. However, opponents argued that passing the amendment would harm women

by taking away protective laws regarding sexual assault and alimony. As a result, the amendment

struggled to gain approval and by 1982, the year of expiration, it fell three states short of

ratification. The Equal Rights Amendment failed to get ratified due to conservative women,

religious beliefs, and anti-ERA movements.

In 1923, Alice Paul introduced the Lucretia Motts Amendment that proposed equal rights

for both men and women. Alice Paul was a feminist who fought for women’s rights including their

right to vote. She wanted women to be equal to men under the law which is why she continued to

fight for women’s rights even after they were given the right to vote. In 1943, Paul renamed the

Lucretia Motts Amendment to “The Equal Rights Amendment” and presented it to congress until

1972 which was the year the amendment was officially passed. The exact ERA phrase read,

“equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any

state on account of sex” (Bode). The ERA would have made any laws that grant one sex different

rights than the other unconstitutional. In 1972, the amendment was approved by congress and sent
Argueta-Cabrera 2

to the states for ratification. Congress set a seven-year deadline on the process of ratification. At

first, the ERA received twenty-two approvals but it needed thirty-eight for ratification.

Unfortunately, approval for the ERA began to slow down as opposition increased. Many anti-ERA

groups developed and tried to convince people that the ERA would only harm women. As a result,

congress decided to extend the deadline until June 30, 1982 to give it the opportunity of

ratification. However, the ERA never received the three additional state ratifications before the

deadline and it was never added to the constitution.

During the 1970s, the Equal Rights Amendment initiated division among American

women. Most individuals supported the amendment, however, the ideas spread by conservative

women led to its failure. According to Give Me Liberty, “to its supporters the amendment offered

a guarantee of women’s freedom in the public sphere. To its foes, freedom for women still

resided in the divinely appointed roles of wife and mother” (830). Many conservative females at

the time believed the Equal Rights Amendment would only harm women instead of benefitting

them. For example, Phyllis Schlafly was a conservative woman who was anti-ERA. She often

spoke about the consequences that would occur if the ERA was ratified. Schlafly claimed she

supported equality for women, however, she believed female liberation was “a total assault on

family, on marriage, and on children” (Schlafly 326). Due to these beliefs, many conservative

women realized the ERA could threaten their rights to child support and alimony. Women

believed they would become subject to the draft and lose the tendency of having child custody in

cases of divorce. As a result, conservative women opposed the ERA and saw it as a direct threat

to a traditional home.

In addition, religious beliefs played a significant role in anti-ERA arguments. Christian

women either supported or rejected the Equal Rights Amendment based on their definition of
Argueta-Cabrera 3

womanhood. Even though Christians used the Bible to support their arguments about proper

roles for women, they came to different conclusions. For example, Marabel Morgan was an

Evangelical Christian woman who opposed the ERA. She wrote a book called Total Womanhood

where she targeted housewives. According to Morgan’s reasoning, the wife needed to care for

the home while the husband needed to lead the household. Morgan believed that “if women and

housewives wanted to be happier, if they wanted stronger, more cohesive families, they did not

need to be angry feminists-they simply needed to get right with God” (Griffis). Many Christian

females believed it was their duty to be at home which is why they opposed the ERA and

supported Morgan’s beliefs. Christians wanted a traditional household and believed it was best

women stayed at home because that was how God intended it to be.

However, there was also disagreement on the Equal Rights Amendment within the

Christian community. For instance, Concerned Women for America and its founder Beverly

LaHaye interpreted the Bible more literally. Even though LaHaye was a Christian, she supported

the Equal Rights Amendment. She believed that God made both males and females differently,

but that did not mean they were inferior or socially unequal. LaHaye argued that God made men

and women differently and even though God made women to be helpers to men, this did not

signify that women were inferior; only subordinate. LaHaye argued that “the Equal Rights

Amendment was necessary as God wished for the sexes to be equal in all ways, including

politically” (Griffis). She was trying to say that God created women to be capable and intelligent,

and that also meant caring for their children and husbands. LaHaye supported the ERA even

though Christian women believed the Bible contradicted the amendment. For this reason, the

Equal Rights Amendment caused division not only among women, but within the Christian

community as well. Religion was an integral part of many Christian’s lives which is why their
Argueta-Cabrera 4

political stances were inseparable from their definitions of womanhood. As a result, different

points of views within religious communities caused greater division regarding the Equal Rights

Amendment.

Furthermore, many anti-ERA movements initiated in the 1970s because there was so

much disagreement among women. The Stop-ERA movement was the one who gained the most

support. It was initiated by Phyllis Schlafly and was an acronym for, “Stop Taking Our

Privileges.” Schlafly argued that the ERA was unnecessary because women in America were

privileged and did not need additional rights that would harm them. Phyllis Schlafly believed

that if the Equal Rights amendment was passed, it would pave the way for greater issues. She

believed that “American women were already extremely well treated by society. The

amendment, she argued, would pave the way for same-sex marriage, abortion, mothers being

drafted into the army, and unisex toilets in public places” ("Phyllis Schlafly: Republican”).

Schlafly believed these issues were harmful to society which justifies her motives for the

formation of the Stop-ERA movement. However, American women who did not agree that

abortion or same-sex marriage were harmful to society, did not support the Stop-ERA

movement. For this reason, Schlafly chose to target religious individuals who would support her

beliefs.

During the Stop-ERA movement, Schlafly travelled around the United States speaking to

religious groups such as Catholics, Mormons, and Jews. She wanted to do everything in her

power to prevent the ERA from passing which is why she targeted religious groups. She gained

support from many of them since they had similar values which is why the Stop-ERA campaign

fought from 1972 to the deadline year of 1982. Moreover, Phyllis Schlafly gathered many

conservative Christian women to join her across the country in the STOP ERA movement. The
Argueta-Cabrera 5

Christian women would discuss their status as mothers and wives during the protests. They

would usually bring desserts like homemade pies to reach the audience and show them what

traditional women were like. The members of the Stop-Era movement would pose hypothetical

arguments to create doubts about the amendment’s promises. In fact, “advocates convinced

lawmakers that the amendment would force women to sign up for the draft, decriminalize rape,

allow for same-sex marriages, give men permission not to support their families, and require

Americans to use unisex toilets” ("Phyllis Schlafly: Republican”). As a result, many Christians

decided to oppose the amendment since it went against their beliefs. Due to Schlafly’s Stop-Era

movement, many states chose to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment which prevented its

ratification.

Due to the rejection of the Equal Rights Amendment, sexual equality is not protected by

the U.S Constitution. Many opponents of the ERA did everything in their power to persuade

both men and women to reject the amendment. Not only did conservative women such as

Phyllis Schlafly and Marabel Morgan convince people that the ERA was harmful, but anti-

ERA movements combined with religious values did too. The argument that American

women already had equal rights and that the Equal Rights Amendment would break apart

traditional families and take away women’s privileges, such as having separate bathrooms for

men and women, significantly impacted the amendment’s progress. The main objections to the

amendment were based on the fear that women would lose privileges and protections. As a

result, American women divided during the 1970s and created tension between conservatives

and liberals. Those who wanted a traditional Christian family supported Schlafly and women

who did not value Christianity so much supported the ERA. Regardless, it was due to the works
Argueta-Cabrera 6

of conservative women and their religious values, as well as their organized anti-ERA

movements that made the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment nearly impossible.
Argueta-Cabrera 7

Works Cited

Bode, Ken. "The Rise and Fall of the ERA". NBC Learn, NBC Nightly News, 30 Jun. 1982,

http://highered.nbclearn.com.proxy189.nclive.org/portal/site/HigherEd/browse?cuecard=

4677

Foner, Eric. “Chapter 26 The Triumph of Conservatism.” Give Me Liberty! An American

History, 5th ed., vol. 2, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2017, pp. 830-831.

Griffis, Chelsea. “‘In the Beginning was the Word"’: Evangelical Christian Women, the Equal

Rights Amendment, and Competing Definitions of Womanhood." Frontiers, vol. 38, no.

2, 2017, pp. 148-172. ProQuest,

https://login.proxy189.nclive.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/193311

6482?accountid=15152.

"Phyllis Schlafly: Republican activist whose anti-feminist campaign defeated an amendment to

the Constitution". The Daily Telegraph, Sep 14, 2016, pp. 27. ProQuest,

https://login.proxy189.nclive.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/181902

4172?accountid=15152.

Schlafly, Phyllis. “Schlafly Phyllis, ‘The Fraud of the Equal Rights Amendment’ (1972).” In

Voices of Freedom: A Documentary History, edited by E. Foner. New York and London:

W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2017.