Washington - U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in the Senate, taking the baton on this landmark women's equality legislation from the late Senator Edward Kennedy. The ERA would add a simple 52 word amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing equal rights under the law, regardless of gender.

As a Constitutional amendment, the ERA would require Congressional passage and ratification by 38 states. Companion legislation in the House of Representatives has been introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY-13), a long-time sponsor of the ERA. The Senate version is co-sponsored by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), John Kerry (D-MA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT).

"Most people are surprised when they find out that, in the 21st Century, American women still are not constitutionally guaranteed equal rights under the law," said Menendez. "It's a sign of the great advancements made in public attitudes, but also of the distance we still must go to ensure that women's rights continue to advance and never backslide. It is time to bring our laws in line with our times by guaranteeing equality for women."

"Though women have a significant patchwork of legal protections today, nothing compares to protection under the U.S. Constitution," Rep. Maloney said. "These 52 words, when passed by Congress and ratified by 38 states, would ensure women's rights as nothing else would. I'm grateful that Senator Menendez, a like-minded man, is re-introducing the Equal Rights Amendment in the Senate, as I have already done in the House."

The Equal Rights Amendment dates back to 1848, and in 1970, it passed Congress and was ratified by 35 of 38 states necessary to amend the Constitution.

A few of the ways the amendment would guarantee the equal rights of men and women are:

• Clarifying the legal status of sex discrimination for the courts by making sex a suspect category subject to strict judicial scrutiny, similar to race, religion, and national origin.

• Guaranteeing equal footing for women in the legal systems of all 50 states.

• Ensuring that government programs and federal resources benefit men and women equally.

Fact sheet on the ERA, from the office of Rep. Maloney

Q and A about the ERA, from the office of Rep. Maloney