Could the Equal Rights Amendment Finally Become Law? Its a Long-shot, But All Eyes Are on Virginia
Opponents view the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment [ERA] as a dead issue, but there are efforts today to resurrect the amendment and add it to the Federal Constitution. The Equal Rights Amendment is a simple statement of equality for women:
Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
Some would argue that despite the failure of the ERA in 1982, women now have equal rights under the law, but that's not entirely true.
Virginia Mercury: "Advocates say it remains important even as women have gained other important legal protections because women are still vulnerable in the federal judicial system, where, for instance, allegations of sexual discrimination are held to a lesser standard than allegations of racial discrimination."
The ERA was introduced in Congress for the first time in 1921, reintroduced in 1971 and was passed by both houses of Congress by early in 1972. It then went to the states for ratification and that's when things got interesting.
The amendment fell three states short of approval in June of 1982, based on a deadline Congress had set for ratification. A few labor leaders and feminists opposed the amendment, but the movement to defeat the ERA was led by Christian right luminaries such as Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schlafly who argued that it would guarantee broader abortion rights, and lead to coed bathrooms and gay marriage.
During his campaign for President, Pat Robertson distributed a fundraising letter to Christian Coalition members arguing that the ERA was part of the "feminist agenda" that "encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians." Pat has always been a bit prone to hyperbole, but he helped make the ERA "ground zero" in the culture wars of the era.
Once the ERA became politicized as anti-family, the Republican Party platform was amended in 1980 to end its support for the ERA, and it failed in conservative state legislatures such as those in Virginia and North and South Carolina.
But since the June 1982 deadline imposed by Congress, two other states have approved the ERA, Illinois and Nevada, and only one more would be needed to meet the Constitutional requirement. Virginia would be the most likely state legislature to add their approval because it leans much more "Blue" these days.
Virginia Pilot: "Virginia’s Senate has passed the ERA at least five times, most recently in 2016, according to the Office of the Attorney General. Similar measures were introduced in the House of Delegates but not considered."
"So what’s different this time?"
"For one, the makeup of the House. Republicans hold a much narrower, 51-49 majority."
And there is an organized effort in Virginia to have the state become the final vote necessary for ratification. Proponents believe they can convince enough VA delegates to pass the ERA during the next legislative session.
Virginia Pilot: Not yet ratifying the ERA is “just a historical oversight,” said Kati Hornung, VAratifyERA’s campaign organizer based outside Richmond. “Now is the time to do it.”
The growing movements for women’s rights – from #MeToo to the women’s marches – make the time especially ripe for change, advocates say.
Passage of the ERA in Virginia wouldn't necessarily add the amendment to the Constitution, however. The US Congress would have to vote to withdraw the June 1982 deadline they originally set for approval, and Federal Courts would have to rule on retractions of earlier ratifications by four conservative state legislatures. But, Virginia's approval would build momentum toward finally achieving full equal rights for women.