Mention the Equal Rights Amendment and eyes roll.

The proposed amendment, intended to guarantee the end of gender discrimination in the United States, has been kicking around since 1923, when it was drafted by Alice Paul, suffragist leader and founder of the National Woman’s Party.

Congress passed the amendment in 1972 and sent it to the states for ratification. Thirty states quickly ratified it. Then conservative activists got busy and things slowed down. The ratification deadline expired three states short of the 38 required for approval, not counting four state legislatures that changed their minds and un-ratified it.

Or did it? The legal status of the ERA is unclear. New efforts are under way to either gain the necessary approval from three more states or to start from scratch.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., reintroduced the ERA in June 2011. She supports the full “start-over” ERA and has 155 co-sponsors on her original legislation.

The “three-state strategy” argues that the count still stands at 35 and just three more are needed. A bill that would legalize that argument has been introduced by U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis.

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said Tuesday that her group voted to support both strategies at its national convention at the end of June.

“We need the ERA,” O’Neill said. “Whether we get it through starting over or the three-state strategy is really irrelevant to us. With the extremist social agenda aimed at pushing women’s rights back, way back … we want to gin up a national conversation about equality for women.”

Maloney, the sponsor of the start-over strategy, also supports the three-state method, saying she believes “in doing anything that will increase the chances that the ERA will be included in the Constitution.”

The amendment itself is simple, stating that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

Then there’s conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. She rose to fame as a leading opponent of the ERA in the 1970s and ’80s, Now, at age 87, she still opposes it.

Schlafly argues that the amendment would take away special privileges for women, who, she said, belong at home as mothers taking care of their children.

In her continued opposition, Schlafly refers to the ERA as a “pro-abortion” measure and warns lawmakers that its passage would compel courts to approve same-sex marriages and deny Social Security benefits for housewives and widows.

Nonsense. The ERA would make it more difficult for employers to discriminate against women in the workplace, including paying them less than men for the same work. Women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

It also would help women retain their reproductive and health care rights and clarify judicial standards for deciding cases of gender discrimination.

How ironic that the United States wants Iran and Afghanistan to include women’s rights in their constitutions but won’t include them in its own.

Enough irony. It’s past time to acknowledge that women, who now make up more than 50 percent of the world’s population, deserve their full rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Editorial by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch distributed by MCT Information Services

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