Eroding the Era of Discrimination with the ERA

America is in the midst of a cultural transformation in which discrimination carried out by the government and businesses against Americans is not only discouraged, but increasingly criminalized. The recent repeal of the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy and the growing acceptance of the LGBT community have indicated America's preference for equality for all under the law and the repeal of prejudicial policies. However, while discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or national origin is unconstitutional, no such constitutional protections against gender discrimination exist.

In this modern age one would think that women would have achieved full equality and that any form of prejudice would be widely discouraged. After all, women now make up a large percentage of the work force and are generally highly educated in comparison to their male counterparts. However, pay inequity and other forms of discrimination remain prevalent, with American workplaces often relegating women to second-class status. Furthermore, American women in the military are not permitted to fight on the front lines of combat, and can be frequently subject to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and even rape.

Women's rights are in a perilous position because the laws that strive to end discrimination against women can be repealed by a simple majority vote in federal and state legislatures. This lapse in legal protections for more than half of America's population merits passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would ensure through a constitutional amendment that all citizens are treated equally and are afforded the same civil rights and liberties regardless of gender.

The main strength of a constitutional amendment in comparison to a non-discrimination law is the manner in which this amendment could be repealed. In order to repeal a constitutional amendment both chambers of Congress, as well as the legislatures of at least thirty-eight states, would have to approve the repeal with a two-thirds majority. Essentially, the Constitution is a far more permanent guarantee of protection and establishes the benchmark principle that men and women are guaranteed equal rights, opportunities, and responsibilities under law.

This amendment has a significant chance of being ratified in the near future, especially now that many of the groups that originally opposed ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment currently either support the amendment or have withdrawn their opposition. Many religious groups previously objected to the amendment or abstained from outwardly supporting it because of its contradiction with their patriarchal scripture (see: Genesis 3:16; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Corinthians 14:34-35; Ephesians 5:24; 1 Timothy 2:11-12) or because they felt that it supported abortions and the legalization of gay marriage. Humanists have fought against this religious opposition to equal rights by consistently supporting the amendment and advocating for its ratification.

Thankfully, opposition from religious groups has lessened over time as conservative religious groups such as the Family Research Council have reversed their opinion on whether the ERA would legalize gay marriage. In addition, mainstream religious organizations such as the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ openly support the amendment, clearing its way for passage. Without intense opposition from religious groups, and with the support of labor, religious, humanist, and feminist groups, the Equal Rights Amendment has a much higher probability of being ratified.

10/23/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • A Humanist View
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  • Roy Speckhardt
    About Roy Speckhardt
    Roy Speckhardt is the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association. He is also a board member of the organization providing Humanists leadership training, the Humanist Institute, and an advisory board member of Secular Student Alliance. Follow him at