By Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – Illinois joined 36 U.S. states on Wednesday when it ratified an U.S. constitution Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) intended to ensure women are treated the same as men under state and federal laws, more than three decades after a deadline to approve it.
The state’s House of Representatives passed a resolution 72-45 to ratify the ERA amendment after the state Senate passed the measure in April.
Illinois’ passage of the amendment comes at a time when support for women’s rights is gaining momentum. In addition to the #Metoo movement, issues like equal pay in the workplace for women are at the forefront of the political and social landscape in the United States.
The U.S. constitution does not currently guarantee equal rights for women, but many federal and state laws prohibit discrimination based on gender.
“By ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment we can provide a strong legal protection for women’s rights and prevent rollbacks from Congress or presidential administrations,” said State Senator Heather Steans in a statement. “This amendment is still relevant and necessary.”
Illinois State Rep. Peter Breen of Lombard, who voted against the measure, told the Chicago Tribune the amendment was intended to expand taxpayer funding for abortions and to roll back abortion regulations.
The U.S. Congress approved the amendment in 1972, sending it to states for ratification. At least 38 states needed to ratify it by 1979 for it to be enacted. Congress, however, pushed the deadline to 1982 when only 35 states approved the amendment.
Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the amendment in 2017, but Virginia failed to pass it earlier this year.
Supporters argue that Congress could enact the amendment once the 38th state passes it since it has the power to “maintain the legal viability” of the amendment’s existing state ratifications, according to EqualRightsAmendment.org.
To complicate matters, five states rescinded previous ratifications. It is unclear how those retractions will play a role in the total state count.
The last change to the U.S. Constitution was made in 1992 when the 27th amendment regarding congressional compensation was ratified.