By Natasha Bach
May 31, 2018

Did you know that equal rights for women are not guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution?

The state of Illinois is doing its part to change that—albeit 36 years after the deadline to ratify the Constitution’s Equal Rights Amendment passed.

The Equal Rights Amendment, which was first proposed in 1972, seeks to guarantee equal rights for all U.S. citizens—regardless of sex. In order for the amendment to be added to the Constitution though, Congress sent it to states for ratification. 38 states needed to ratify it by 1979 for it to be enacted.

Only 35 states ratified it before the deadline, however, leaving it three short of the number required for it to be added to the Constitution. Congress then pushed the deadline to 1982 hoping to reach the threshold.

That deadline came and went without gaining any further states. But then last year Nevada ratified the amendment. The momentum slowed when Virginia and Arizona tried and failed to ratify it earlier this year. With the ERA’s ratification in Illinois on Wednesday though, the nation is only one state away from passing the amendment.

Now a legal battle may be ahead. On the one hand, the deadline for ratification has passed, technically meaning it’s too late. However, some supporters point to other amendments that were ratified decades after their introduction, suggesting that the same could be applied for the ERA.

Others have suggested that Congress has the “power to maintain the legal viability” of the existing ratifications, notes Reuters, meaning it has the power to enact the amendment once the 38th state passes it. What’s more, it appears that legislators themselves may take the deadline with a grain of salt: an identical piece of legislation was introduced in both chambers last year to pull the ratification deadline.

There is at least one snag in these plans. Five states have rescinded earlier ratifications of the ERA, meaning that the current count is somewhat unclear.

Until a 38th state steps up and ratifies the ERA, women may just have to be willing to continue to accept laws prohibiting discrimination on gender rather than full-blown equality in the face of the Constitution.

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