All of Phyllis Schlafly’s Nightmares Came True: Why Schlafly’s Anti-ERA Arguments are Out-Dated and Illogical

By: Kate Miceli

Phyllis Schlafly speaking to reporters at Stop ERA protest.
Phyllis Schlafly speaking to reporters at Stop ERA protest.

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has been getting major political buzz lately as we are one state away from ratification. The renaissance of the ERA has reignited one of its largest opponents, Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly was a constitutional lawyer, conservative, and famously anti-feminist advocate. So, it’s no surprise Schlafly was in extreme opposition to the ERA. In fact, many would call her the opposition. Schlafly relied on her massive audience, conservative ideals, and a healthy dose of fear-mongering to stop the ERA’s passage. She started an organization called STOP ERA, with STOP being an acronym for “Stop Taking Our Privileges.”[1] Schafly did exactly that by preventing the ERA from gaining its requisite 38 state threshold for ratification, however in the time since, many of Schlafly’s concerns about the ERA have since become realized. The question remains as to how legitimate her fears actually were — and should people continue to parrot her thoughts and ideas as legitimate arguments against the ERA? This article examines three reasons Schlafly opposed the ERA and why they no longer hold water in 2019.

#Myth 1 – Schlafly Argued the ERA Would Take Away Separate Restrooms for Men and Women

Bathroom panic has been a longstanding way to establish both racist and homophobic mentalities amongst Americans.[2] Schlafly preyed on this fear by arguing that the ERA would no longer allow for gendered restrooms, as men and women would be the same under the law.[3] Schlafly, and other activists, claimed that this would allow a breeding ground for rapists and pedophiles to attack women in public restrooms.[4]

While effective, this argument was patently illogical and remains false. First, public unisex bathrooms already existed in the 1970’s. Most forms of public transportation, such as trains and planes, utilized unisex bathrooms for the convenience of passengers. However, these facts were either overlooked or proved inconvenient for the STOP ERA crowd to address. Second, unisex bathrooms are now becoming the societal norm — the thing that Schlafly and others feared is already happening without the passage of the ERA. Similarly, several states and localities have prohibited discrimination based on gender identity related to restrooms and locker rooms.[5]

#Myth 2 – Schlafly Said the ERA Would Lead to Gay Marriage

            According to Schlafly’s non-profit organization, Eagle Forum, the ERA would put “gay rights into the United States Constitution because the word in the amendment is “sex,” not women.”[6] In a nutshell, Schlafly argued the ERA would grant equal privileges under the law based on sex, meaning same-sex couples would be granted the same rights as opposite-sex couples. She worried this would lead to same-sex marriage and generally would promote a “lesbian agenda.”[7] (Personally, I’m curious to see what a lesbian agenda entails but I digress.)

            Once again, Schlafly’s fears became realized without the help of the ERA. In 2015, the Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to marry based on the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[8] Additionally, through a series of Supreme Court and federal court decisions, same-sex couples are legally allowed to adopt in all 50 states,.[9] Furthermore, this fall, the Supreme Court will hear three cases related to employment discrimination of LGBTQ individuals.[10] While there is no guarantee what the Court will decide, many states have already built protections for LGBTQ workers into their state laws.[11]

# Myth 3 – The ERA Would Force Women to Serve in Combat and Be Drafted

            Schlafly was incredibly effective at tying any potential consequence of the ERA to a real-world outcome. One of her best efforts was arguing that women would be forced to serve in combat roles and that the ERA would eliminated the exemption for women to be drafted into military service.[12] The Selective Service states that all men between the ages of 18 to 25 must register for the draft.[13] Schlafly argued if the ERA passed, women would also be required to register. In 1981, the Supreme Court agreed that a male only draft was allowable as women were ineligible to serve in combat roles.[14]

            Fast forward to February 2019 when federal Judge Gray Miller held it unconstitutional to require only men to register for the draft.[15] While his ruling is considered mostly symbolic, it has the potential to force the Selective Service to add women to the draft or eliminate it all together. This comes after the Department of Defense lifted all gender-based restrictions for women in the military, including the ability to serve in combat positions.[16] While Schlafly’s fears are not fully realized, women are now allowed to serve in combat position.

            Of course, Schlafly had other concerns about the ERA including its impact on abortion, alimony, and child custody, and even the elimination of gender separate sports and activities. It can be said that those arguments also seem irrelevant now as alimony and child custody have become increasingly gender-neutral and organizations such as The Boy Scouts are openly accepting female members.[17] As shown above, opposition to the ERA will be overcome, whether it is by the Supreme Court, the Constitution, or shifting public opinion. The thing about progress is, it can always be halted, but it can never be stopped.


[1] Erin Blakemore, Why the Fight Over the Equal Rights Amendment Has Lasted Nearly a Century, History (Feb. 27, 2019),https://www.history.com/news/equal-rights-amendment-fail-phyllis-schlafly.

[2] Neil J. Young, How the Bathroom Wars Shaped America, Politico (May 18, 2016),  https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/05/2016-bathroom-bills-politics-north-carolina-lgbt-transgender-history-restrooms-era-civil-rights-213902.

[3] Amanda Terkel, Bathroom Panic Has Long Stood In The Way of Equal Rights, Huffington Post (March 24, 2016), https://www.huffpost.com/entry/bathroom-panic_n_56f40300e4b0c3ef521820e3.

[4] Emily Crockett, The Bizarre History of Bathrooms Getting in the Way of Equal Rights, Vox (Dec. 30, 2015), https://www.vox.com/2015/12/30/10690802/bathrooms-equal-rights-lgbtq.

[5] Know Your Rights LGBTQ Rights, Am. Civil Liberties Union (last visited Sept. 15, 2019),  https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/lgbtq-rights/#does-the-law-protect-my-right-to-use-the-restroom-consistent-with-my-gender-identity.

[6] The Phyllis Schlafly Report: A Short History of the ERA, Eagle Forum (Sept. 1986),  https://eagleforum.org/psr/1986/sept86/psrsep86.html.

[7] Id.  

[8] Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015).

[9] Jacob Gershman, Clash Over Same-Sex Adoption Heads to Court, Wall Street Journal (Dec. 21, 2018), https://www.wsj.com/articles/clash-over-same-sex-adoption-heads-to-court-11545388201.

[10] Marcia Coyle, Does This Anti-Discrimination Law Protect LGBTQ Workers? 3 Cases ask the Supreme Court to Decide, PBS (Sept. 12, 2019), https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/does-this-anti-discrimination-law-protect-lgbtq-workers-3-cases-ask-supreme-court-to-decide.

[11]Non-Discrimination Laws: Employment, Movement Advancement Project (last visited Sept. 15, 2019), https://www.lgbtmap.org/equality-maps/non_discrimination_laws.

[12] The Phyllis Schlafly Report: A Short History of the ERA, Eagle Forum (Sept. 1986),  https://eagleforum.org/psr/1986/sept86/psrsep86.html.

[13] Why Register?, Selective Service System (last visited Sept. 15, 2019), https://www.sss.gov/Registration/Why-Register.

[14] Rostker v. Goldberg, 453 U.S. 57 (1981).

[15] Gregory Korte, With Women in Combat Roles, a Federal Court Rules Male-Only Draft Unconstitutional, USA Today (Feb. 25, 2019) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/02/25/federal-judge-all-male-draft-unconstitutional-now-what-selective-service/2979346002/.

[16] Gregory Korte, Q&A: A Judge Has Ruled a Male-Only Draft Unconstitutional. What Happens Now?, USA Today (Feb. 26, 2019), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/02/25/federal-judge-all-male-draft-unconstitutional-now-what-selective-service/2979346002/.

[17] Katie Blackley, Welcoming Girls, Boy Scouts Program is now Scouts BSA, NPR (Feb. 1, 2019), https://www.npr.org/2019/02/01/690024261/welcoming-girls-of-all-ages-boy-scouts-of-america-is-now-scouts-bsa.