In 1972, a movement began to legally guarantee equal rights for all citizens regardless of their biological sex. The bill was named the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) but fell short of the 38 states required to ratify it within the 10-year deadline.
On Wednesday night, the legislative state house in Illinois pushed the ERA one step closer to its goal of reaching 38 states. With a final vote of 72 to 45, the bill passed and Illinois became the 37th state to ratify it. All of the votes in the House against ratification came from Republicans
As the Hill reports, Illinois’ state Senate approved the ratification measure last month, and “it does not require the support of Gov. Bruce Rauner.”
The passage sets the stage for a possible legal battle over the amendment since Congress’s deadline for states to ratify the amendment expired in 1982.
But supporters argue that because a 1789 amendment was ratified more than two centuries later in 1992, the Equal Rights Amendment could still be added to the Constitution, the Tribune noted.
Congress approved the amendment in 1972. But only 35 states ratified it ahead of the deadline, three short of the number required to add it to the Constitution.
According to the report, the state of Nevada similarly ratified the amendment last year, after the deadline.
As ABC 7 reports, the legislative efforts in the state Senate chamber and the House were both led by Democrats:
Rep. Lou Lang sponsored the measure in the House. The Skokie Democrat said the vote is a historic moment for women across the country.
Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) sponsored measure in the Senate.
“This is a historic day for women across the country,” she said. “I am thrilled that members of the House joined the Senate in standing up for women’s rights.”
Opposition during the two-hour debate ranged from concerns over more-accessible abortion to arguments that it would roll back protections for minorities.
“Tonight, Illinois sent a clear message to the country that we stand united for equality and justice for all,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement, per the report. “Enshrining equal rights for women in our nation’s Constitution is an important and long overdue step on the journey to a more perfect union. I commend Leader Lang and Senator Steans for their leadership, and am proud to stand with all those who voted to create true equal rights under the law for every American.”
“I am appalled and embarrassed that the state of Illinois has not done this earlier,” said Democratic Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego, per Chicago Tribune. “I am proud to be on this side of history and I am proud to support not only all the women that this will help, that this will send a message to, but I am also here to be a role model for my daughter.”
While the amendment continues to slowly press towards ratification, people are still debating whether the ERA is legally necessary. As Chicago Tribune reports:
Note: The author of this article has included commentary that expresses an opinion and analysis of the facts.
Whether the amendment can be added to the nation’s founding document is still a matter of debate among constitutional experts. Geoffrey Stone, a professor at the University of Chicago who specializes in constitutional law, said it’s unclear “there’s an obvious right or wrong answer.”
Some critics have also questioned the necessity of such an amendment, saying federal laws have already been passed to extend equal rights to women. Stone said ratification of the amendment “would make some difference in marginal cases where the law allows discrimination today” and “lock in” many of the federal protections women have gained over the decades.
“The main reason for adopting the Equal Rights Amendment today if one could legally, constitutionally do it would be the symbolic importance of it,” Stone said. “The rejection of it is in some ways insulting. So, the symbolic importance of it is to who we are as a nation — what our aspirations are, what our values are. That in itself is an important affirmation of who we are.”