Feb. 13 (UPI) -- The Democratic-held House approved a measure Thursday to remove a deadline attached to the decades-old Equal Rights Amendment, in a bid to give legal weight to states that have recently approved it to be enshrined into the U.S. Constitution.
The lower chamber voted 232-183 to approve a bill sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., that cuts out a 1982 deadline in the ERA's preamble. The ERA was approved by Congress in 1972 and ultimately allowed 10 years for 38 states, the minimum threshold required to add a constitutional amendment, to approve it.
Five Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the resolution.
"Women want to be equal and we want it in the Constitution," Speier said before Thursday's vote. "I am equal on this House floor with all of my male colleagues, but when I walk out I have fewer rights and protections than them. I rise today because the women of America are done being second-class citizens."
"It's a historic day. It's a happy day," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. "When women succeed, America succeeds. That's what we believe, and that's what we're acting on today."
By 1982, only 35 states had approved the proposal and the issue remained dormant for the next 35 years. The ERA was resurrected in 2017 when, motivated by the #MeToo movement, Nevada's legislature ratified the amendment. Illinois followed the next year and Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the proposal in January.
Opponents have argued the approvals by those three states have no legal force because the deadline for them to do so passed 38 years ago. That opinion is shared by the Justice Department, which last month held that the ERA "is no longer before the states," and in effect prevented the U.S. Archivist from recognizing its validity.
"There shouldn't be a deadline on equality and our long march to full equality under the law is finally coming to fruition," Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton of Virginia told CNN.
ERA advocates, however, contend the legal validity of Congress placing deadlines on proposed constitutional amendments is questionable and that the issue should ultimately be decided in the courts.
Thursday's House vote to rescind the deadline served to accelerate awareness of the revived ERA, supporters said -- while Republican opponents pointed to comments this week from liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said the entire process needs to be redone in order for the ERA to be valid.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., echoed Ginsburg's position and said the ERA could be used by abortion rights groups to undo anti-abortion legislation and lead to "taxpayer-funded abortions."
The bill now goes to the Senate, where Republican leader Mitch McConnell has already said he doesn't support it.