Today in 1974, frustrated at the slow pace with which other states were acting to amend the federal constitution, Connecticut amended its own state constitution, inserting the words “or sex” into a key provision of that document.
Two years earlier, Connecticut had been one of over 30 states that voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.) as passed by Congress, which expressly prohibited discrimination based on a person’s sex. The federal E.R.A would have become the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution upon ratification by 3/4 of the states in the Union, but it ultimately failed to gain the support it needed to reach that threshold. Two years later, local activists in Connecticut proposed a state Equal Rights Amendment that would explicitly include “sex” as a protected class under the Connecticut State Constitution. In spite of a handful of interest groups warning that the passage of a state E.R.A would place working women at risk or endanger rape or child support laws, the voters of Connecticut overwhelmingly voted in favor of the amendment on Election Day, November 5, 1974, passing the measure 77 percent to 22 percent.
1974 was a banner year for women in politics and women’s rights in Connecticut: On the same election day Ella T. Grasso was also voted into the Governor’s office as Connecticut’s first female governor and the first woman in U.S. history to be elected governor in her own right (i.e. without being preceded by her husband). Grasso won the election by a margin of over 200,000 votes.
A few weeks later, on November 27, 1974, the General Assembly formally adopted the state’s Equal Rights Amendment, adding two small — but powerful — words to the end of the Equal Protection clause found in Section I of the State Constitution. Since that date, the Equal Protection clause now reads: “No person shall be denied the equal protection of the law nor be subjected to segregation or discrimination in the exercise or enjoyment of his or her civil or political rights because of religion, race, color, ancestry, national origin or sex.” The Constitution amended, and a step forward for equal rights taken, today in Connecticut history.