After years of attempts to get it passed, on March 22, 1972, the Senate voted by 84 to eight to send the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the states for ratification. When the Senate vote took place in the mid-to-late afternoon in Washington D.C., it was still midday in Hawaii. The Hawaii state Senate and House of Representatives voted their approval shortly after noon Hawaii Standard Time-making Hawaii the first state to ratify the ERA. Hawaii also approved an Equal Rights Amendment to its state constitution that same year. The "Equality of Rights Amendment" has similar wording to the proposed federal ERA of the 1970s.
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
On that first day of ERA ratification in March 1972, many senators, journalists, activists, and other public figures predicted that the amendment would soon be ratified by the necessary three-quarters of the states-38 out of 50.
New Hampshire and Delaware ratified the ERA on March 23. Iowa and Idaho ratified on March 24. Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas ratified by the end of March. Seven more states ratified in April. Three ratified in May, and two in June. Then one in September, one in November, one in January, followed by four in February, and two more prior to the anniversary.
One year later, 30 states had ratified the ERA, including Washington, which ratified the amendment on March 22, 1973, becoming the 30th "Yes on ERA" state exactly one year later. Feminists were optimistic because the majority of people supported equality and 30 states ratified the ERA in the first year of the "new" ERA ratification struggle. However, the pace slowed. Only five more states ratified between 1973 and the final deadline in 1982.
Falling Short and a Deadline Extension
Indiana's ERA approval came five years after the proposed amendment was sent to the states for ratification in 1972. Indiana became the 35th state to ratify the amendment on January 18, 1977. Unfortunately, the ERA fell three states short of the necessary 38 states to become adopted as part of the Constitution.
Anti-feminist forces spread resistance to a Constitutional guarantee of equal rights. Feminist activists renewed their efforts and managed to achieve a deadline extension, beyond the initial seven years. In 1978, Congress extended the deadline for ratification from 1979 to 1982.
But by that time, anti-feminist backlash had begun to take its toll. Some legislators switched from their promised “yes” votes to voting against ERA. Despite the fervent efforts of equality activists, and even a boycott of unratified states by major U.S. organizations and conventions, no states ratified the ERA during the deadline extension. However, the battle wasn't over yet…
Ratification Via Article V vs. "Three-State Strategy"
While ratification of an amendment via Article V is standard, a coalition of strategists and supporters have been working to ratify the ERA using something called "a three-state strategy," which would allow the legislation to go the states without the constraints of a time limit-in the tradition of the 19th Amendment.
Proponents argue that if the time limit was in the text of the amendment itself, that restriction would not be subject to alteration by Congress after any state legislature had ratified it. The ERA language ratified by 35 states between 1972 and 1982 did not contain such a time limit, so the ratifications stand.
As explained by the ERA website: "By transferring time limits from the text of an amendment to the proposing clause, Congress retained for itself the authority to review the time limit and to amend its own previous legislative action regarding it. In 1978, Congress clearly demonstrated its belief that it may alter a time limit in the proposing clause when it passed a bill moving the deadline from March 22, 1979, to June 30, 1982. A challenge to the constitutionality of the extension was dismissed by the Supreme Court as moot after the deadline expired, and no lower-court precedent stands regarding that point."
Under the aegis of the three-state strategy, two more states were able to ratify the ERA-Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018-leaving the ERA just one ratification shy of being adopted as part of the Constitution of the United States.
Timeline: When States Ratified the ERA
1972: In the first year, 22 states ratified the ERA. (Stares are listed alphabetically, not in sequence of ratification within the year.)
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
1973-Eight states, running total: 30
- New Mexico
- South Dakota
1974-Three states, running total: 33
1975-North Dakota becomes the 34th state to ratify the ERA.
1976: No states ratified.
1977: Indiana becomes the 35th and final state to ratify the ERA prior to the initial deadline.
2017: Nevada becomes the first state to ratify the ERA using the three-state model.
2018: Illinois becomes the 37th state to ratify the ERA.
States That Have Not Ratified the ERA
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
States That Rescinded ERA Ratification
Thirty-five states ratified the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Five of those states later rescinded their ERA ratifications for various reasons, however, at present, the prior ratifications are still being counted in the final total. The five states that rescinded their ERA ratifications were:
- South Dakota
There is some question regarding the legitimacy of the five rescissions, for several reasons. Among the legal questions:
- Were the states legally rescinding only incorrectly worded procedural resolutions but still leaving the amendment ratification intact?
- Are all ERA questions moot because the deadline has passed?
- Do states have the power to rescind amendment ratifications? Article V of the Constitution deals with the process of amending the Constitution, but it deals only with ratification and does not empower states to rescind ratifications. There is legal precedent invalidating the rescission of other amendment ratifications.
Written by Contributing Writer Linda Napikoski, edited by Jone Johnson Lewis