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Summary Article: Equal Rights Amendment
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Proposed amendment to the US Constitution to provide for the equality of sexes under the law, originally proposed in 1923 by Alice Paul, a leader of the women's suffrage movement. The National Organization of Women (NOW), formed in 1966, made ratification of the ERA central to its mission, and, together with other interests, it undertook a major effort during the 1960s and early 1970s, culminating in the passage of the ERA by Congress in 1972. However, although the amendment received the necessary two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress, it failed to be ratified by sufficient states by the stipulated deadline of July 1982. Since its defeat, the ERA has been reintroduced in each opening session of Congress.

The ERA would have made unconstitutional any laws granting one sex different rights from the other. In order to become law, the amendment needed a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress or a supporting petition of two-thirds of the state legislatures, followed by ratification by three-quarters of the states. Despite strong opposition from Conservative politicians and organizations, by August 1974 the amendment had been ratified by 33 of the required 38 states.

A congressional mandate had set March 1979 as the deadline for ratification; by June 1978, only two additional states had approved the ERA. Ceding to popular sentiment and intense lobbying by a united women's rights coalition, Congress granted a three-year, two-month extension for approval, yet not one additional state ratified the amendment in that time. By 2002, the ERA had been ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 states, and 16 states guaranteed equality of the sexes in their state constitutions.

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