Illinois may become one of the states to approve the federal Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, which passed Congress in 1972 but never won enough state approval. Decades ago, supporters of the amendment led protests, including chaining themselves to the doors of the Illinois Senate, but their antics never worked. The ERA – “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex” – was meant to ensure women have the same rights when it comes to things like employment, wages, health, and discrimination. The federal amendment was approved by 35 states, but it needed three more and failed.
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State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) is urging Illinois to approve it now with a resolution, but there’s a problem. “It’s really disputed whether the timeline that was set up, by which we had to ratify, is valid or not,” said Steans. The second deadline in 1982 has long come and gone, but Congress may be able to change it if Illinois and other states agree to approve the amendment. “This doesn’t change anything automatically. What it does, though, is say you’re not allowed to abridge anybody’s rights based on sex and that Congress can pass legislation to implement those laws,” said Steans, who is sponsoring the resolution that would have Illinois approve the ERA.