1978: ERA Debates

1978: NOW President Organizes Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) Debates

Anniken Howell, the Capitol Campus NOW president in 1977-1978, wrote articles about NOW issues, which often included the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) progress.

The ERA – the proposed 27th amendment to the Constitution – states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The amendment was originally proposed in 1923, but the Senate and House of Representatives did not pass it on for states to ratify until March 22, 1972. Congress placed the seven-year ratification deadline on the amendment, meaning that if the requisite 38 states didn’t approve the amendment by 1979, the amendment would be discarded.

Twenty-two states immediately ratified the amendment, but then opposition to the ERA organized, which slowed the progress. By 1978, the year before the ratification deadline, only 35 states – three short of the requirement – had ratified the ERA, so ERA supporters started to get nervous.

The ERA supporters’ push to ratify the amendment incited additional opposition to it; this debate appeared nationwide and reared its head at Capitol Campus. In response to Howell’s article about the benefits of the ERA, multiple female students published anti-ERA sentiments in the CC Reader: “ERA is the project of feminist extremists and lesbian elitists who consider the family outmoded.”

In addition, they made claims that if the states ratify the ERA, husbands would no longer be required to financially support their wives, to which Howell responded, “[The ERA] will not outlaw voluntary support of a spouse by either husband or wife. I know of no happy, well-adjusted family where the supporting spouse rendered support because there was a law that said he/she had to.”

Howell and other students wrote additional articles and letters-to-the-editor to rebuff the anti-ERA claims. Howell also initiated an ERA open forum and debate on campus.

In July 1978, NOW organized a successful march of over 100,000 supporters in Washington D.C. that prompted Congress to extend the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982.

Today, 34 years after the extended deadline, there are still 15 states that have not ratified the amendment, meaning the amendment is still three states shy of ratification.

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