On Tuesday, Patricia Arquette delivered a passionate plea for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)  at a historic hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. 

This was the first time in over 36 years that the ERA, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, has been discussed in Congress. At the hearing, seated right behind Arquette were several rows of women’s activists, including fellow actress Alyssa Milano. Many of which wore white and some even sported suffragette sashes of purple and green.

“There’s a groundswell in this country,” Arquette said. “Women are rising up by the millions and saying they will not be sexually assaulted, they will not be paid less, they will not be treated as subhuman and they will have their voices heard.”

The ERA, which if ratified would outlaw sex discrimination in all areas of American life, passed Congress in 1972 with bipartisan support but fell short by three states of the 38 required to ratify by the 1982 deadline. During Tuesday’s hearing, a bill sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) to eliminate the deadline was debated. 

The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee equal rights for women in its constitution. Speier believes the failure to guarantee women’s rights in the U.S. Constitution is a “stain” on the country. 

“Nations around the world recognize the equality of men and women,” Speier said on Tuesday. “It’s frankly an embarrassment.” 

Opponents of the amendment are calling it unnecessary and warn that it may be used to lift restrictions on abortions, endanger privacy by lifting gender designations for bathrooms and eliminate existing state-level protections for women.

“The ERA will build a wall — a wall that will actually do something against the never-ending assault on our rights from the current or future presidents,” Milano said.

“Ratifying an ERA will say to the nation and to the world that the most important document in American history refuses to allow any person to be discriminated against because of who they are,” she said.

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Since 1982, many states have tried to nullify past support for the ERA while others have renewed their pushed to ratify the amendment. Just last month, Virginia came up one vote short of becoming the 38th state to ratify the ERA.

“We think we’re going to take Virginia next year. We’re holding men’s feet to the fire. We want them to stand with us and get it done,” Toni Van Pelt, the president of the National Organization for Women said. 

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