RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Both the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates have officially voted to pass bills ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.
Virginia could be the last state needed to ratify the ERA, but there could still be hurdles even if its supported by the General Assembly. | Credit: WHSV
The vote by both of the state's legislative chambers Wednesday, decades after Congress sent the ERA to the states with bipartisan support in 1972, is a momentous victory for many women's rights advocates.
With Virginia’s official sign-off — which will involve additional procedural steps following Wednesday’s votes — the state will become the decisive 38th to approve the measure.
Lawmakers moved swiftly this session to make Virginia that key decision maker.
Votes on the measure in past years failed again and again, often with the bill dying in committee in the House of Delegates before ever reaching the House floor. But with Democrats in control for the first time in decades, bills for ratification were placed near the top of lawmakers' lists of priorities this year and passed out of committee in the first days of committee hearings.
However, due to a 1982 deadline that passed years ago, even with 38 states' approval, the amendment will face legal battles ahead to have any chance at becoming the law of the land.
The Justice Department issued an opinion last week concluding that because the deadline has expired, the ERA is no longer legally pending before the states.
Still, the votes in the House and Senate carried enormous symbolic weight and showed how much once solidly conservative Virginia has changed.
The House vote was presided over by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, the first female House speaker in the chamber’s 400-year history.
“We’re euphoric,” Lisa Sales, a member of the grassroots VAratifyERA group that’s worked for passage, said ahead of the vote.
ERA advocates say the measure would enshrine equality for women in the Constitution, offering stronger protections in sex discrimination cases. They also argue the ERA would give Congress firmer ground to pass anti-discrimination laws.
Opponents warn it would erode commonsense protections for women, such as workplace accommodations during pregnancies. They also worry it would be used by abortion-rights supporters to quash abortion restrictions on the grounds that they specifically discriminate against women.
Advocates, opponents and legal experts largely agree that with the 38th state’s ratification, lawsuits are likely to unfold. At least two have already been filed.
Congressional Democrats are also working to pass a bill removing the 1982 deadline.
Statement provided by Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner on the passage of the ERA
“It’s about time for women’s equal rights to be explicitly declared in our Constitution and we’re thrilled that Virginia will be the last state necessary to move this effort towards the finish line,” said the Senators. “Ratifying the ERA not only honors the work of all those who dedicated their lives to fighting for women’s equality, but also enhances our legal ability to fight future instances of gender-based discrimination throughout the country. We applaud Senator McClellan, Senator Locke, and Delegate Carroll Foy for their work on this resolution, and commend every advocate and activist across Virginia who has been a part of this important movement.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.