By Benjamin Long
NEW YORK, Jan 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women's rights advocates kicked off a campaign on Tuesday to light a new fire under a proposed U.S. constitutional amendment for equal rights that has been the subject of impassioned debate for decades.
Actresses Patricia Arquette and Alyssa Milano joined political leaders at a rally in Washington, calling for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that would ensure that women are treated the same as men under state and federal law.
The ERA was approved by the U.S. Congress in 1972 but fell short of ratification by the 38 states necessary make it an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It has since been ratified by a total of 37 states.
The constitution does not specifically guarantee equal rights for women.
"We have waited too long. We cannot wait another century, another decade, another year, or another month. We need constitutional protection for women," Arquette said.
The deadline to ratify the ERA expired in 1982, although resolutions have been introduced in the U.S. Congress to remove or restart the deadline.
Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who sponsored one of the resolutions, said women's rights need to be spelled out to build support for such efforts as equal pay and an end to discrimination.
"Women's hard-fought rights and the progress that we've made over the course of a century are under attack," she said. "It's happening, in part, because our constitution does not contain the word 'women.'"
Approval of the ERA was a popular cause among women's rights supporters in the 1970s and '80s and the subject of frequent rallies and marches.
Opponents said the amendment might weaken laws that protect women or argued that women's rights were sufficiently protected and a separate amendment was unnecessary.
Support for the ERA could gain steam now amid the current #Metoo campaign of women speaking out about sexual harassment, backers said.
"Our government, and the men in power, decided that if we didn't get all 38 states by 1982, then we were not going to get equality at all," Arquette said.
"Well, I hope you're all ready now. Because it's 2019 and we should all be more than ready."
The last change to the U.S. Constitution was made in 1992 when the 27th amendment regarding congressional compensation was ratified.
(Reporting by Benjamin Long; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst
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