RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) — A recent opinion issued by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel says the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment has expired, but that didn't stop opponents, supporters and legislators from talking about its passage Wednesday as the General Assembly convened.
Kristen Waggoner speaking at the conference. Photo by Zobia Nayyar.
Female-led groups united at the General Assembly for a press conference, urging representatives not to pass legislation ratifying the ERA.
The amendment seeks to guarantee equal rights in the U.S. Constitution regardless of sex. It passed Congress in 1972 but could not collect the three-fourths state support needed to ratify it. Efforts to ratify the ERA gained momentum in recent years when it passed in Nevada and Illinois. Now, with a Democratic majority, Virginia could become the 38th state to ratify the ERA.
Groups such as The Family Foundation of Virginia, Eagle Forum, Students For Life of America and Concerned Women for America said they oppose the ratification of the ERA at the press conference. The groups said the amendment does not explicitly support women’s equality.
“The ERA does not put women in the Constitution,” said Anne Schlafly Cori, chairman of Eagle Forum, a conservative and pro-family group. “It puts sex in the Constitution, and sex has a lot of different definitions.”
President of the Virginia chapter of the The Family Foundation Victoria Cobb agreed and said that when the ERA was first written, it referred to two sexes, male and female, but there is no longer a shared understanding of sex, which she believes could lead to the amendment being interpreted vaguely. Cobb, like other people opposed to the amendment, believe women have already achieved equality.
“Today I am different than men and yet equal under the U.S. Constitution, and Virginia Constitution and Virginia laws,” Cobb said.
Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, agreed and said that she did not need the ERA to become a state senator.
“I’m here as a perfect example of we don’t need the Equal Rights Amendment to be equal,” Chase said, adding that the group of women standing behind her didn’t need the ERA either.
Stephanie Stone, capital area regional coordinator with Students for Life of America, said that pro-choice groups connect abortion rights with the ERA. The group NARAL Pro-choice America states on its website that “with its ratification the ERA would reinforce the constitutional right to abortion by clarifying that the sexes have equal rights, which would require judges to strike down anti-abortion laws because they violate both the constitutional rights to privacy and sexual equality.”
Cobb agreed and said that the ERA needs to be clear that it would not harm unborn babies.
Several speakers recalled the legacy of former state Sen. Eva Scott, who passed away last year. Scott, who represented Dinwiddie, Lunenburg and Nottoway counties, was an outspoken critic of the ERA. She said the ERA was outdated because it used men as the standard for determining equality. Scott served as a delegate from 1972 to 1979 and then became the first woman elected to the state Senate, where she served a four-year term. Last year, she attended a press conference and noted many accomplishments women have made without the ERA and said that “women really need to embrace the truth that equality is already theirs.”
The governor and Democratic legislators have championed the ERA as a legislative priority. When the 2020 General Assembly convened Wednesday, Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said in opening remarks “this House will pass the Equal Rights Amendment.”
Though legislators hope passage would be an easy victory this session, the effort may be too late. The DOJ announced Wednesday that the ERA can no longer be ratified because its deadline expired decades ago.
Assistant Attorney Steven Engel said that the deadline cannot be revived.
“We conclude that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA, and because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the states,” Engel said.
Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, believes the DOJ legal counsel’s opinion will not stop the ERA’s progress.
“I am more than confident that this is just another effort by people who want to stop progress and who don't believe in women's equality,” Carroll Foy said. “And this is another one of their concerted efforts to deny us fundamental rights and equal protections. But the time has come; we are unrelenting. We will not be deterred, and we will have our full constitutional equality.”