In 1921, Alice Paul of the National Women’s Party drafted the Equal Rights Amendment for constitutional gender equality. The original version read:
Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.
Introduced into every session of Congress since the Wilson Administration, the ERA appeared to be permanently mired. Once President Nixon took office, however, the tide began to change for the purportedly doomed amendment.
Under the Nixon administration, Representative Martha Griffiths and Senator Birch Bayh pushed the ERA in Congress. Martha Griffiths of Michigan drafted an updated version known as House Joint Resolution no. 208, which passed through House within a year and within several months, it moved into Senate. Senator Birch Bayh rephrased the prohibition of sex discrimination as an explicit violation of federal law:
Equality of Rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.
Alongside his other civil rights policies, President Nixon publicly endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment in near verbatim terms both during his vice-presidency, and then presidential campaign of 1968.
Vice-President Nixon makes a pro-ERA statement in September 2, 1960.
nd Presidential Candidate Nixon supports the Equal Rights Amendment in July 1968.Former Vice-President a
As a Senator, Nixon sponsored a resolution that included the original amendment in 1951 and continued his support in his 1968 presidential campaign. In a similar fashion, President Obama has also publicly supported the Equal Rights Amendment, sponsoring the joint resolution to ratify the amendment when he was senator for Illinois, and as U.S. Senator, he cosponsored the Women’s Equality Amendment..
As President Nixon headed into his final years in office, he reiterated his pro-ERA statement. But given its contentious nature and the publicity of Phyllis Schlafly’s Stop-ERA campaign among other anti-ERA groups, the Equal Rights Amendment failed to pass on June 30, 1982—the final deadline mandated by Congress.
Thirty-one years later, interest groups, organizations for equality, and government officials continue to fight for the passage of the equal rights amendment.
Twenty-one states have ratified their own versions of the ERA; sixteen of these twenty-one states have adopted the federal ERA, including California, President Nixon’s home state. And more recently, states like Oregon plan to include the ERA on the May 2014 ballot. The ERA seems to have fared better with the state-based approach, which may appeal to conservatives who oppose federal legislative overreaching.
Since ERA was first proposed as a constitutional amendment in 1923, interest groups have been opposed to the possibility of removing gender-specific privileges (military draft, maternity leave, social security benefits). And because the amendment explicitly states equality not be denied or abridged on the account of sex, many argue that there is no need for its passage because other acts, including Title IX—passed by President Nixon—already bar sex discrimination at the Federal level.