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Virginia passes Equal Rights Amendment: Setting up constitutional fight

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Photo Credit: LPETTET

The Virginia General Assembly voted Wednesday to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, becoming the 38th state to do so, and setting up a political fight to see the amendment added to the U.S. Constitution.

“As we enter this new, more inclusive, diverse, and accountable government that mirrors the values of today’s Virginians, it is important that our actions reflect those ideals. After nearly 100 years of working to put equality into the Constitution, a document that lays out our nation’s most fundamental rights and laws, we are taking the historic step to make ratification a reality. Finally, women will be represented in the Constitution,” said Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, who was sworn in last week as the first female House Speaker in the 401-year history of the Virginia House of Delegates.

“For many of my colleagues voting today, who have felt the sting of discrimination, fought to be treated equally in their workplaces and within our institutional structures, today we are making history and walking down a more inclusive path,” Filler-Corn said. “One where our daughters and their daughters after them will have equal protection under the law. Putting gender equality in the Constitution does not right the wrongs of the past, nor fix all forms of discrimination, but it lays down a marker on a map that leads us to a more just and equal future.

“There have been thousands of people who have marched before us; who worked to make this a more just and equal society; who have worked to make the Equal Rights Amendment a reality. I cannot possibly begin to thank them enough for their dedication, sacrifices and leadership. We honor them – and all women across Virginia and America – with our action today,” Filler-Corn said.

But the fight to add the ERA to the U.S. Constitution is far from being over. The Trump administration said last week in a legal opinion that the effort initiated in 1972 has timed out.

Thirty-five states voted to ratify the amendment in the 1970s, three states short of what was needed to ultimately add the amendment to the Constitution.

A renewed effort in recent years led to Nevada approving the ERA in 2017, and Illinois did the same in 2018, leaving the amendment one state vote of approval short, assuming no time deadline had passed.

Both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate approved the amendment in 1972, with a seven-year deadline for the necessary number of states to sign on.

That deadline was later extended to 1982.

The House Judiciary Committee voted in November to retroactively remove to the ratification deadline.

Congressman Don Beyer, D-Va., a cosponsor of the House legislation to extend the deadline for ratification, said Wednesday after the votes in the General Assembly that he is “determined to do everything (he) can in Congress to help pave the way for the final ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. Equality, justice, and history demand nothing less.”

“Today, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and I could not be more proud,” said Beyer, who is also a cosponsor of new Equal Rights Amendment legislation introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). “Ratification of the ERA is long overdue, but it is wonderful that Virginia took the historic step today which brought the Amendment across the three-fourths threshold necessary for ratification.

Another Virginia congressman, Donald McEachin, D-Va., said Wednesday’s vote was “long overdue,” and pledged, like Beyer, to work in Congress to see the ERA added to the Constitution.

“Women waited over 150 years after this republic was founded for the right to vote, and it has taken over 200 years to put women in the Constitution to grant them equal rights,” McEachin said. “Today is a critical step in that process, and I congratulate my former colleagues at the Virginia General Assembly for reaching this milestone.”

“As a congressman, I will be working hard to ensure that this milestone is not in vain and that the ERA finally becomes a reality – an amendment to our Constitution – and progress for American women,” McEachin said.

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both D-Va., joined Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., in November in sponsoring a bipartisan Senate resolution to immediately remove the ratification deadline for the ERA and eliminate any ambiguity that may exist at the federal level.

“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,” Warner and Kaine said in a joint statement issued Wednesday. “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.”

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said last week that his office will work with congressional leaders to clear the hurdles to see the ERA added to the Constitution.

“The ERA should have been passed by Virginia and other states a long time ago,” Herring said. “It should have been unanimous. Women in America deserve to have equality guaranteed in the Constitution. The fact that Republican attorneys general are suing to block the ERA, and that they now have the support of the Trump Administration, is absolutely repugnant.”

Story by Chris Graham

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