US Equality Laws That Never Passed
The last decade of American politics has seen its fair share of accomplishments. But these US equality laws that never passed serve as dark clouds over the country’s legacy.
America is the land of the free, but based on several US equality laws that never passed, it’s not exactly the land of fairness and equity. Women, as well as people of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community, have been fighting for equal rights for almost a century. And, despite the wins (i.e. Roe v. Wade, marriage equality, DACA, etc.), there’s still a long way to go. For many marginalized groups, their right to fair and equal treatment isn’t a guarantee. The following US equality laws that never passed show what could have been.
The Equal Rights Amendment
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is one of the most frustrating political stories of the last 100 years and in the US equality laws that never passed. The ERA was passed by both the Senate and House of Representatives on March 22, 1972, as reported by the New York Times. (But activist Alice Paul first introduced the amendment in 1923, just one year after the 19th Amendment passed, which gave women the right to vote.) However, the ERA couldn’t be signed into law unless 38 of the 50 states ratified it. In layman’s terms, ratifying is each state’s formal approval process. To date, only 36 states have ratified the bill, with Nevada only doing so this year on March 22 -- exactly 45 years after Congress first passed it. The states that haven’t ratified yet are largely concentrated in the West and the South, and include Florida, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Arizona, and Utah, among others.
If passed, the ERA would’ve solved issues like the wage gap, paid leave for new mothers, and even public school programs’ treatment of girls. Simply put, the ERA wanted to ensure women had as many opportunities to succeed as men. But it seems this isn’t a priority for American politicians and 14 states. Until two additional states move to ratify, the ERA will remain a casualty of our political system.
The Paycheck Fairness Act
To be fair, the Paycheck Fairness Act wasn’t just introduced in 2017. Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro has introduced some form of this bill every year since 1997, to no avail. But as the wage gap remains at the center of national discussion, the Paycheck Fairness Act has become a hot piece of legislation. Overall, the Paycheck Fairness Act is simple. It guarantees that men and women are paid equal rates for the same work. Many studies indicate that women earn 23% less than their male counterparts.
The bill received rapturous Democratic support under President Obama but failed in 2011, 2012, and 2014 without Republican votes.
This April, DeLauro, along with Senator Patty Murray, reintroduced the bill on Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Day is a national holiday created to honor all the extra days women would need to work to earn as much as men. However, the bill hangs in limbo, with little hope of progress during this session. It’s another frustrating setback for women and another example of the US equality laws that never passed but had the potential to change the country.
The Equality Act
This past March, Democrats reintroduced the Equality Act in Congress. The bill would grant federal protections for LGBTQ Americans, mainly making it illegal to discriminate against someone based on sexuality or gender identity. If signed into law, it would become the first official piece of legislation to safeguard the LGBTQ community. And it would serve as an extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as other civil rights laws currently on the books. But, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Equality Act has been blocked by Republicans, many of whom believe it’s constitutional to deny goods and services to people based on religious freedom -- which makes this one among the other US equality laws that never passed.
On May 2, a group of politicians—Senators Corey Booker, Tammy Baldwin, and Jeff Merkley and Representative David Cicilline—introduced the bill again, with over 200 cosponsors. The fate of that bill is still in the air. However, based on the Trump administration’s rulings on trans military servicemen and women, schoolchildren, and other LGBTQ-related executive orders, there isn’t much hope for its passing.
The NYS Women’s Equality Act
If you’re at all familiar with the New York State Women’s Equality Act, you’re wondering why it’s on this list. It’s true—this act officially passed in 2017 when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law. But the final law is not the original proposal. The Women’s Equality Act consisted of a 10-point agenda, with each point serving as its own bill. The act included bills that increased pregnant workers’ rights, criminalized family status discrimination, and legalized equal pay. But voting members of New York’s Congress refused to budge on the issue of abortion rights.
Conservative senators wouldn’t touch the act if it had anything to do with abortion. Thus, this provision was removed. The bill would’ve allowed abortions up to 24 weeks and in cases where pregnancy threatens the mother’s life. It even would’ve protected the doctors who perform abortions. But unfortunately, even in the pursuit of women’s equality at the state level, politicians had to make some concessions.
The DREAM Act
Of all the US equality laws that never passed, the DREAM Act is perhaps the timeliest. Not to be confused with DACA, the DREAM Act would be the legal component that would solidify the policies outlined in DACA. The act was first introduced to Congress in 2001 and has failed ever since. The DREAM Act would give conditional green cards to all active DACA recipients. And, it would set up a system to grant green cards to future immigrant children brought to the US Provided all conditions of the green card are met, those recipients would be eligible to apply for permanent residency and even citizenship.
Top Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer met with President Trump in mid-September to discuss the bill. Both emerged from the meeting hinting that a deal had been made and that the DREAM Act could become a possibility. But, with 16 years of failure under its belt, there’s no guarantee of success just yet.
For decades, Americans have fought for equality, and repeatedly, they’ve faced rejection from the federal government. The country’s rejection of these principles remains a dark spot on its history. But there’s hope that these US equality laws that never passed aren’t doomed to the Capitol Hill cutting room floor forever.