“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any other State on account of sex.” – Text of the Equal Rights Amendment
Written By Julie Stidolph
In January 1972, forty-nine years after suffragist Alice Paul first introduced the Equal Rights Amendment, the measure finally passed in both houses of Congress. State legislatures across the country raced to be part of the historic constitutional change, with 13 ratifying the amendment within the following three days. In Oklahoma, the only initial concern raised by the ERA was a small controversy over which senator would be credited with filing the resolution, and it easily passed the Senate with only a voice vote.1 However, this benign beginning was only the calm before the storm. A week later, legislators in the House defeated the measure, arguing that it needed further study given its potential consequences.2 Thus, in a portent of future events, Oklahoma became the first state to vote down the Equal Rights Amendment. The public and legislative battle over ratification would last over ten years.
The legislative session in 1973 revealed growing controversy as the House debated the possible long-term ramifications of the amendment, focusing on issues such as women in the military, inheritance and tax laws, the pay of working women, and the legitimate role of women in society. On January 26, the House rejected the measure for a second time with a vote of 45 to 53.3
By late 1974, a poll indicated growing support for the ERA with a small majority of House members favoring the amendment. Nevertheless in January 1975, the House defeated ratification a third time by a 45-51 vote. Throughout activists continued to educate both the legislature and the public on the issue.
In order for the proposed amendment to be ratified, 38 states needed to approve the ERA by March 22, 1979. As this deadline approached, public debate intensified and national attention focused hopes for ratification on four key states, one of which was Oklahoma. When Congress extended the ratification deadline to June 30, 1982, activists vigorously renewed their efforts.
In January 1982, Senate leader and longtime ERA supporter Marvin York decided to risk a vote on an ERA resolution although the result was uncertain.4 A poll conducted a few days before the vote showed that Oklahoma was truly a battleground on the ERA question though leaning strongly in favor. A plurality of 44% favored the amendment, 38% opposed, and 15% remained uncertain.5 However, as supporters and opponents alike watched from the packed gallery, the vote to ratify came up short by four votes. The June deadline passed without approval by enough states to win ratification.