Order Code RS20217
Updated August 23, 2004
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Equal Rights Amendments: State Provisions
Leslie W. Gladstone
Analyst in American National Government
Domestic Social Policy Division
Twenty states adopted state equal rights amendments between 1879 and 1998. The
texts of most of these amendments either are similar to the proposed federal amendment
or restate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S.
Constitution. The timing of the enactment of these state amendments and the choice of
wording reflect both the ebb and flow of the women's movement in the United States
and the political culture of the particular states at the time of passage. A brief history
of the women's rights movement as it relates to the passage of state equal rights
amendments is included. The report ends with the text and the date of enactment of
Twenty states have adopted constitutions or constitutional amendments providing
that equal rights under the law shall not be denied because of sex1. Most of these
provisions repeat the broad language of the proposed federal amendment;2 in others, the
wording resembles the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.3
The earliest state constitutional rights provision on record, the California provision
of 1879, differs from both of these models by limiting the equal rights conferred to
“entering or pursuing a business, profession, vocation, or employment.” Interestingly, the
other two 19th century rights provisions, those of Wyoming (1890) and Utah (1896), are
broadly written to insure political and civil equality to women. Most state amendments
were adopted in the 20th century, between 1971 and 1978. These years approximate the
period when the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was before the states for
The number of states with equal rights provisions in their constitutions has not changed since
this report was first issued on June 3, 1999.
Section 1 of the proposed federal Equal Rights Amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the
law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
For texts of state equal rights amendments, see listing at end of this report.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
ratification.4 Between 1978 and 1997, no state ERAs were adopted. Then in 1998 two
more states, Florida and Iowa, passed amendments that have been referred to as equal
rights amendments, although Florida's is called a “basic rights amendment.” These new
state amendments are similar in intent to a number of the other state provisions, but avoid
language, such as “equality of rights,” that became divisive in earlier attempts at passage.5
By the 1840s, as a result of their participation in reform movements to abolish
slavery, many women began to evolve a philosophy of their own place in society and of
greater rights for themselves. Until then, the question of whether, and to what extent, the
status of women under the U.S. and state constitutions was different than that of men was
not recognized as a public issue. Despite earlier published writings on the subject of
women's status by Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and John Stuart Mill, as well as
other American and English activists,6 organized political pressure on behalf of women
did not emerge until the middle of the 19th century.
In 1848, a small group that was meeting in Seneca Falls, New York, to discuss “the
social, civil, and religious rights of women”7 signed a “Declaration of Sentiments,” calling
for the removal of all forms of subjugation of women and demanding the right to vote and
to complete equality under the law. The strategy of the early women's rights movement
was to reform laws it considered unjust, but changes were slow and difficult to achieve.
Following the Civil War, all attention was focused on emancipation and suffrage for
blacks, and women were advised that the times were not auspicious for pressing their
concerns. When attempts to include rights for women under the post-Civil War
Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments failed, women began to work for constitutional
reforms at both the state and national levels, but the primary emphasis was on the U.S.
Constitution, a state-by-state effort being rejected as too lengthy. That three western
territorial legislatures, far removed from the politics of the East and Midwest, enacted
rights for women in the 19th century is not an anomaly. California was in the midst of a
rampant expansion, and every hand was needed. Sparsely settled Wyoming was home to
a few strong pro-suffrage women, backed by a sympathetic governor, who saw an
opportunity for victory. In Utah, Mormon women were not asking for rights, but the issue
of polygamy was delaying a much desired advancement to statehood and its promise of
The federal Equal Rights Amendment was passed on March 22, 1972. The usual 7-year period
for ratification was extended by Congress on October 6, 1978, until June 30, 1982. On that date
the amendment failed, since only 35 states of the 38 required had ratified it.
See Lee Rood, “Nineties-style Feminism a Low-Key Affair,” Des Moines Register, Nov. 27,
1998, p. 1, and Jeff Kunerth, “Voters Go for Most Revisions on the Ballot,” Orlando Sentinel,
November 4, 1998, p. D1.
For Thomas Paine, see Pennsylvania Magazine, August 1775, p. 363. For Mary Wollstonecraft,
see Miriam Schneir, ed., A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (New York: Vintage, 1972), pp.
5-16. For John Stuart Mill, see Alice S. Rossi, ed., “The Subjection of Women,” in The Feminist
Papers: From Adams to de Beauvoir (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973) pp. 196-238.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Mathilda Joslyn Gage, eds., History of Woman
Suffrage, vol. I (New York: Arno, 1969), p. 67.
greater self-government. Mormon elders saw enfranchising women as a chance to
increase their power against federal interference in governing the territory (and later the
During the 1970s, when the federal amendment was before the states for ratification,
a number of states passed state versions. These efforts were in large part an endorsement
of the federal effort, but they also were intended to ensure equal rights at the state level
until the time when a federal amendment might become a reality.
Some believe that a principal drawback of state ERAs is the variation in their
wording, a situation that has led to differing interpretations by state courts and, therefore,
a lack of uniformity of rights among states.9 Others regard having a state ERA, even an
arguably weak one, as better than not having any legal and philosophical statement of
equality on the record.
Texts of State Equal Rights Amendments10
Alaska: “No person is to be denied the enjoyment of any civil or political right
because of race, color, creed, sex or national origin. The legislature shall implement this
section.” Alaska Constitution, Article I, §3 (1972).
California: “A person may not be disqualified from entering or pursuing a business,
profession, vocation, or employment because of sex, race, creed, color, or national or
ethnic origin.” California Constitution, Article I, §8 (1879).11
Colorado: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the
state of Colorado or any of its political subdivisions because of sex." Colorado
Constitution, Article II, §29 (1973).
Connecticut: "No person shall be denied the equal protection of the law nor be
subjected to segregation or discrimination in the exercise or enjoyment of his or her civil
Mormon men assumed that Mormon women would vote in the same way as their husbands. For
an account of this period, see Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Women's Rights
Movement in the United States (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1959),
For a discussion of some of the legal effects of state ERAs, see Paul Benjamin Linton, “State
Equal Rights Amendments: Making a Difference or Making a Statement?” Temple Law Review,
fall 1997, pp. 907-944.
Sources for state texts were ibid.; “A Guide to Equal Rights Provisions,” National Law
Journal, vol. 3, July 5, 1982, p. 28; and state legislative libraries in Sacramento, California,
Tallahassee, Florida, and Des Moines, Iowa.
This provision was originally article 20, §18. When the constitution was revised in 1974, it
was redesignated as article I, §8. An 1974 amendment added protection for “race, creed, color,
or national or ethnic origin” to the original text.
or political rights because of religion, race, color, ancestry, national origin or sex."
Connecticut Constitution, Article I, §20 (1974).12
Florida: “All natural persons, female and male alike, are equal before the law and
have inalienable rights, among which are the right to enjoy and defend life and liberty, to
pursue happiness, to be rewarded for industry, and to acquire, possess and protect
property; except that the ownership, inheritance, disposition and possession of real
property by aliens ineligible for citizenship may be regulated or prohibited by law. No
person shall be deprived of any right because of race, religion, national origin, or physical
disability.” Florida Constitution, Article I, §2 (1998).
Hawaii: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the
State on account of sex. The legislature shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate
legislation, the provisions of this section.” Hawaii Constitution, Article I, §3 (1972).
“No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law,
nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of the person's
civil rights or be discriminated against in the exercise thereof because of race, religion,
sex or ancestry.” Hawaii Constitution, Article 1, §5 (1978).
Illinois: “All persons shall have the right to be free from discrimination on the basis
of race, color, creed, national ancestry, and sex in the hiring and promotion practices of
any employer or in the sale or rental of property.”
“These rights are enforceable without action by the General Assembly, but the
General Assembly by law may establish reasonable exemptions relating to these rights
and provide additional remedies for their violation.” Illinois Constitution, Article I, §17
“The equal protection of the laws shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex
by the State or its units of local government and school districts.” Illinois Constitution,
Article I, §1 (1971).
Iowa: “All men and women are, by nature, free and equal and have certain
inalienable rights — among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty,
acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety and
happiness.” Iowa Constitution, Article I, §1 (1998).
Louisiana: “No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws. No law
shall discriminate against a person because of race or religious ideas, beliefs, or
affiliations. No law shall arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably discriminate against
a person because of birth, age, sex, culture, physical condition, or political ideas or
affiliations. Slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited, except in the latter case as
punishment for a crime.” Louisiana Constitution, Article I, §3 (1974).
“In access to public areas, accommodations, and facilities, every person shall be free
from discrimination based on race, sex, religion, or national ancestry and from arbitrary,
An amendment in 1984 added protection for “physical or mental disability.”
capricious or unreasonable discrimination based on age, sex, or physical condition.”
Louisiana Constitution, Article I, § 12 (1974).
Maryland: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged or denied because
of sex.” Maryland Constitution, Declaration of Rights, Article 46 (1972).
Massachusetts: “All people are born free and equal, and have certain natural,
essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and
defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing and protecting property;
in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness. Equality under the law
shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race, color, creed or national origin.”
Massachusetts Constitution, Part 1, Article 1 (1976).
Montana: “The dignity of the human being is inviolable. No person shall be denied
the equal protection of the laws. Neither the state nor any person, firm, corporation, or
institution shall discriminate against any person in the exercise of his civil or political
rights on account of race, color, sex, culture, social origin, or condition, or political or
religious ideas.” Montana Constitution, Article II, §4 (1973).
New Hampshire: “All men have certain natural, essential and inherent rights
—among which are, enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and
protecting property; and, in a word, of seeking and obtaining happiness. Equality of rights
under the law shall not be denied or abridged by this state on account of race, creed, color,
sex or national origin.” New Hampshire Constitution, Part 1, Article 2 (1974).
New Mexico: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due
process of law. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied on account of the sex
of any person.” New Mexico Constitution, Article II, §18 (1973).
Pennsylvania: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged in
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because of the sex of the individual.” Pennsylvania
Constitution, Article I, §28 (1971).
Texas: “Equality under the law shall not be denied or abridged because of sex, race,
color, creed, or national origin. This amendment is self-operative.” Texas Constitution,
Article I, §3a (1972).
Utah: “The rights of citizens of the State of Utah to vote and hold office shall not
be denied or abridged on account of sex. Both male and female citizens of this State shall
enjoy all civil, political and religious rights and privileges.” Utah Constitution, Article IV,
Virginia: “The right to be free from any governmental discrimination upon the basis
of religious conviction, race, color, sex, or national origin shall not be abridged, except
that the mere separation of the sexes shall not be considered discrimination.” Virginia
Constitution, Article I, §11 (1971).
The Territory of Utah enacted women's suffrage in 1870 and carried it into statehood in 1896.
Washington: “Equality of rights and responsibility under the law shall not be denied
or abridged on account of sex.” Washington Constitution, Article XXXI, §1 (1972).
Wyoming: “In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all
members of the human race are equal. Since equality in the enjoyment of natural and civil
rights is only made sure through political equality, the laws of this state affecting the
political rights and privileges of its citizens shall be without distinction of race, color, sex,
or any circumstance or condition whatsoever other than the individual incompetency or
unworthiness duly ascertained by a court of competent jurisdiction. The rights of citizens
of the state of Wyoming to vote and hold office shall not be denied or abridged on account
of sex. Both male and female citizens of this state shall equally enjoy all civil, political
and religious rights and privileges.” Wyoming Constitution, Articles I and VI (1890).14
The Territory of Wyoming originally granted rights to women in 1869 and carried
enfranchisement into statehood in 1890.