The Equal Rights Amendment in Illinois

Presented to the Champaign Business and Professional Women's Club in 1999.

From 1972 until the ratification deadline on June 30, 1982, there were numerous attempts to get the ERA ratified in Illinois. One obstacle in this state was that the legislature adopted a three-fifths vote for ratification of federal constitutional amendments. Although it regularly passed the Senate or the Mouse with the traditional simple majority which every other state required for ratification, we could never get both houses to pass the amendment with a 3/S or 60% majority in the same legislative session. One house of the legislature would pass it with a 3/5 majority in one session and the other would pass it with a 3/5 majority in the next. Never, in all of the votes taken on the amendment, did both houses pass it in the same session.

There were several reasons for the defeat of the ERA in Illinois. Although the ERA was popular with Illinois citizens -- polls from 1974 to 1982 showed that support for the amendment ranged from 74% to 62% in favor - - neither political party took it on as a major issue. In addition, the opposition especially Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum and Stop ERA Coalition -- and created doubts and confusion confusion among Illinois residents. In fact, one reason that polls reflected a diminishing level of support after 1974 was the well-funded effort of the opposition which began to emerge after that date. Finally, pro-ERA organizations did not use the diversity and variety of tactics adopted by the suffrage and other movements for social change, strategies such as direct action and civil disobedience.

The good news is that even though the ERA was not added to the U.S. Constitution, the belief that it would pass caused many state legislatures to begin ridding their statutes of discriminatory laws. Literally hundreds of such laws were removed in numerous states during the 10-year ratification period. In addition, the progressive women's rights sentiment that led to passage of the ERA through Congress also led to other federal women's rights legislation that benefited all women, including those in Illinois. Among those acts were the Equal Pay Act of 1963; Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act preventing discrimination in employment; Title IX of the 1972 Educational Amendments, which prohibited discrimination against women in sports and other areas in colleges, universities and common schools receiving federal funds. There were also numerous court decisions during the 1960's through the 1980's which brought the nation closer to the ideal of equal treatment under the law.