Steve Andersson played an instrumental role in getting the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) ratified in Illinois in 2018. As a state representative he lobbied fellow Republicans to vote in favor of the resolution for ratification. While ERA had easily passed the Senate, it narrowly passed the House. Andersson, of Geneva, Illinois, said even in the moment it came up for a final vote, he wasn't sure it would be successful.
"It was intense. That was one of my most favorite vote experiences watching the board," said Andersson. "It came down to the wire." The measure passed with a vote to spare.
ERA did not begin as a partisan issue. But it became that way. Andersson's vocal approval of the amendment was spotlighted as an outlier. He said it is a human-rights issue. "I have a daughter and a son. And what I've often said is that I'm doing this as much for my son as my daughter," said Andersson. He said having more women, LGBTQ people and racial minorities weigh in on decisions would "explode the potential for what we can do as a society."
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
The language of ERA is simple. Its history however is not. It was drafted by suffragists Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman who wanted to ensure women's rights did not end at the ability to vote. ERA was first introduced in Congress in 1923. The goal was for the amendment to outlaw discrimination based on gender.
Congress passed ERA in 1972, and President Nixon was a fan. Still, it needed enough states to ratify – 38. A congressional deadline was set and then extended into the 1980s, but not enough states at that time came through.
Phyllis Schlafly of Alton made the state a battleground with her "Stop ERA" campaign. Andersson credits her with its demise. "I'm not happy about that, but I gotta give credit where credit's due. She was an effective advocate for her side. Unfortunately, she was wrong," said Andersson.
One of Schlafly's main critiques was that the amendment would provide on-demand abortion access. Like her, Andersson identifies as pro-life. Schlafly advocated the importance of women in the home – though she herself traveled extensively, ran for public office, and was a lawyer – all of which Andersson also has in common with the late conservative ideologue.
Andersson said there is no court that has suggested elective abortions must be funded publicly, and that he does believe abortion should be available to women when "medically necessary."
Andersson has traveled the country supporting ERA. Virginia ratified it earlier this year, making it the 38th state to do so.
"He's such a kind-hearted, easy to get along with kind of guy. I think he really looks at the Equal Rights Amendment as a part of his personal legacy that he would like to leave behind," said Kati Hornung, who helped lead the movement for ratification in Virginia, where Andersson helped lobby.
Andersson has also been working in Washington to convince members of Congress to pass a resolution that would extend the deadline for ratification. It's unclear what would happen if that resolution passes. "Regardless, we're going to court and in fact, we're already there," said Andersson.
Earlier this year, Illinois attorney general Kwame Raoul joined AG's from Nevada and Virginia in filing a lawsuit aimed at ensuring the federal government acknowledge ERA as the 28th amendment. They argue that according to the text of the Constitution, ERA has already achieved what it needs to be added. Andersson points out that the congressional deadline is mentioned in the preamble of the amendment's language, "which is not binding."
Andersson's continued efforts have been noted by his fellow advocates, like Hornung. "There are a lot of people who punch the 'yes' button, and they vote the right vote, but then they are done," she said. "And I think Steve feels like until this is actually enshrined in the Constitution, we all need to keep working."
Contact Rachel Otwell at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter: @MsOtwell.