Steve Chapman

There are also numerous federal and state statutes prohibiting discrimination -- such as in hiring and pay -- against women. If those haven't stamped it out, an amendment isn't likely to help. In fact, says Koppelman, "it's hard to imagine it making any difference at all."

Supporters who say it would make a difference, though, find themselves emphasizing that it would not make too much of a difference. Contrary to the warnings of some critics, we are told, it would not force states to pay for abortions, legalize same-sex marriage or subject women to a military draft.

Oh? The organization 4ERA admits that in some states whose constitutions have equal rights amendments, the courts have interpreted them to require publicly funded abortions. And state-level ERAs were a big reason that the supreme courts in Hawaii and Massachusetts said same-sex marriage must be allowed (though the Hawaii decision was reversed by constitutional amendment).

As for the draft, the group says, "Congress already has the power to draft women into the armed services." Well, yes. But at present, Congress has no obligation to do so if it chooses to impose conscription. With this language in the Constitution, it might.

In fact, no one knows for sure what the effect of the Women's Equality Amendment would be. When you approve a constitutional amendment setting the minimum voting age at 18, you can be confident that it will not turn out to be 19 or 17. But when you issue a broad mandate, you buy a surprise package whose contents will become known only after it is too late.

The universally accepted goals of the amendment have already been achieved, so the only important changes it might bring are those that Americans have decided we don't want. Which is why its time may have come -- and gone.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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