History

The XIX Amendment (Women’s Suffrage, 1920) is the only mention of women and their rights mentioned in the Constitution, a document which at its birth, in 1787, and amended by the Bill of Rights in 1791, gave guiding principles to a country in which women (and African slaves, indentured servants, etc.) had few rights under the law. Women could not vote, could not own land, could not represent themselves in court, could not inherit. Until after the Civil War our Constitution and Bill of Rights gave no specific protection to the majority of the population.

 

The XIV Amendment (1868) and its Equal Protection clause,

 

“nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law: nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”

 

was intended to protect the newly freed African slaves.  It was the first mention of ‘rights’ in the Constitution (remember, the ‘all men are created equal’ ideal is from the Declaration of Independence, an inspiring statement, but not the Constitution, not a legal basis for laws).  It would take 100 more years for the United States to force the southern States to allow the descendants of slaves to vote (Civil Rights Act 1963).  It would take another 52 years for women to get the vote (1920).  The XIV Amendment has not been interpreted in the courts as a means of protecting women from discrimination.  That was not its intent, in the context of 1868. 

 

Equal Rights Amendment (as passed both houses of Congress in 1972)

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

 

The ERA was passed by the U.S. Congress in 1972 and sent to the states for ratification.  By 1982, it had been ratified by only 35 of the necessary 38 state legislatures.  Due to the time limit placed on ratification, it was considered to have expired.  ERA ratification bills have been introduced in Congress every year since 1982 without ever leaving committee.

 

The states that did not ratify the ERA between 1972 and 1982 were: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia.

 

Nearly half the states in the Union now have varying degrees of equality language in their state constitutions.

 

Maine does not have an equal rights provision in its State Constitution. 

 

(lots more to come..)

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