In many respects,
She was a constitutional lawyer, CEO of a nationwide organization, best-selling author and a candidate for
Schlafly didn't single-handedly stop the Equal Rights Amendment in its tracks as it appeared headed for adoption in the 1970s, but it sure seemed like it. Though she had six children, she was hardly one of the traditional homemakers she said she was representing.
When the conservative activist died in 2016, there was little momentum in the ERA movement. That has changed.
In what feels like a time-warp, the ERA suddenly appears destined to be ratified by a 38th state, the number needed to become part of the
There are caveats galore, however, surrounding a disputed decades-old deadline for approval, among other things. Litigation is all but certain.
That virtually guarantees a national debate during a presidential election year about whether gender equality should be codified in the
Whether the ERA would be enshrined in the
"Would the ERA have passed without Phyllis? That's the
Through 1977, the amendment received approval in 35 of the necessary 38 states. It had bipartisan support in both houses of
STOP ERA drew from the ranks of another Schlafly-created group, the
The ERA's momentum stalled and a handful of legislatures voted to rescind their state's ratification, though whether those subsequent votes will hold up is another legal issue.
Schlafly insisted the amendment would take away the right of women to stay at home and care for their children. Many stay-at-home mothers were attracted to her cause.
She argued that it could harm women by threatening alimony, change child custody in divorce cases and require women to be drafted into the military. Some women in labor organizations initially expressed concern that the amendment could take away protections in labor law, but more feminist labor leaders eventually came to back it.
Schlafly infuriated critics who called her a hypocrite, noting she traveled extensively, had a housekeeper and personal assistant. Perhaps reflecting on her own experience, Schlafly suggested women didn't need the ERA.
"The claim that American women are downtrodden and unfairly treated is the fraud of the century," Schlafly wrote in her 1977 book "The Power of the Positive Woman."
"If you're willing to work hard, there's no barrier you can't jump," she added.
For all of the emotions and political machinations triggered by the ERA, its main clause is pretty simple: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by
Given all the changes that have occurred over the decades, there's debate about whether the ERA is relevant today. Some of the benefits backers said the amendment would help bring about have happened through legislation at the federal and state levels, such as anti-discrimination laws, workplace protections, educational opportunities and child-support laws.
The ERA may seem like a fight from the 1970s, but the battle goes much further back. The first version of the amendment was introduced in
Along with changing political dynamics, renewed interest in the ERA has coincided with the #MeToo movement against assault and harassment. Over the past two years,
"The unfortunate truth is that despite a series of important legislative gains and court rulings over the last half century prohibiting discrimination and improving economic opportunity, women remain second-class citizens," according to an essay on NOW's website. "Our status has been only modestly improved by such gains which are subject to revision or repeal at any point by a simple majority vote."
The coming campaign over the ERA raises the question of whether there will be a Schlafly-like figure to lead the opposition. The better question may be whether a Schlafly would be relevant today.
Some of her past arguments may be repeated. But others — such as warnings that the ERA would lead to women serving in combat, gender-neutral restrooms and same-sex marriage — are from a bygone era.
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