91. Equal Rights Amendment (1972)

Background: In March 1972, the U. S. Congress overwhelmingly voted to adopt an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U. S. Constitution that guaranteed the rights of women. The amendment stated that "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex." The amendment was then sent to the states, where 38 states needed to ratify it in order to become a part of the U. S. Constitution. Within a year, 30 states had adopted the amendment, which had to be ratified by 1979. By 1979, the requisite number of states still had not approved the amendment and Congress granted an extension to the deadline for approval to 1982. Illinois was one of the states, and the only northern industrial state, that did not ratify the amendment. Efforts to pass the amendment in Illinois were hampered by the need for it to receive a three-fifths vote in each chamber, rather than a simple majority of the vote.

The Document: Senate Joint Resolution 62, which calls for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, was introduced in the General Assembly shortly after Congress sent the proposed amendment to the states. The resolution passed the Senate but not the House. Over the next 10 years there were several attempts to pass the ERA in Illinois. Both the House and the Senate passed the amendment once during that time but not in the same session, meaning the amendment did not pass. The amendment was defeated eight times in the House and four times in the Senate. Debate became particularly heated in 1982 as the deadline for ratification neared. In Illinois, pro- and anti-ERA supporters held several large rallies at the Statehouse. One dozen pro-ERA demonstrators chained themselves to the Senate chamber entrance during the debates and another seven went on a lengthy hunger strike. After the 1982 defeat in the Senate, several demonstrators were arrested for pouring what they said was pig's blood on the capitol floors.

Note: On May 30, 2018, 36 years after the deadline, Illinois became the 37th state to ratify the ERA. The 1972 joint resolution is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of General Assembly Record Series 600.001, "Bills, Resolutions, and Related General Assembly Records."