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Equal Rights Amendment Stumbles in Virginia House Committee

The fight to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia may be over, at least for the 2019 General Assembly session.  

A resolution to ratify would make Virginia the 38th and final state needed to formalize a U.S. Constitutional amendment prohibiting sex discrimination. Congress passed the Amendment back in 1972 and sent it to the states to be ratified.

But on Tuesday, a six-member House Privileges and Elections Subcommittee unsurprisingly defeated Virginia’s proposal on a party-line vote.

It’s passage would have signaled an unprecedented shift for Republicans on the panel, who had rejected the measure in previous years.

ERA supporters spent the last six months rallying for the amendment, traveling the state and gathering thousands of signatures.

They hoped this year would be different. In part, because they secured bipartisan support. Senator Glen Sturtevant (R-Richmond) sponsored one of the resolutions, And he made a last-ditch effort during the early morning hearing Tuesday to connect with his GOP colleagues on the issue.

“In your time here at the General Assembly how often have you seen the freedom of speech under assault?” Sturtevant asked. “How often have you seen efforts to restrict religious freedom? How many times have you seen attempts to infringe on the right to keep and bear arms?”

Sturtevant noted, those are rights that are protected in the U.S. Constitution.

“How fragile then is equality between men and women, which is not explicitly protected there in our founding document?” he asked.

 

Political climate

Republicans suffered big defeats in recent state elections. And several moderates, like Sturtevant, are up for reelection this year in suburban districts where women voters supported Democrats.

Many social conservatives say the ERA is a veiled attempt to enshrine abortion rights in the U.S. Constitution.

Delegate Margaret Ransone (R-Northern Neck) chairs the subcommittee where the resolution was heard. She says women are already protected by the U.S. Constitution.

“And don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Women deserve equal treatment,” Ransone said. “Women deserve to be paid fairly and women deserve every opportunity in life that a man does. I don’t need words on a piece of paper.”

Ransone made those comments after singling out long-time ERA activist Eileen Davis who was in the audience at Tuesday’s hearing.

“You sit back there and you shake your head.” Ransone said to her.

She accused Davis, who is also the mother of Democratic Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, of trying to persuade women that they can’t succeed without the ERA. The crowd cheered Davis on as she shouted back that they should have equal constitutional protections under the law.

 All four resolutions being considered were shot down on a vote of 4-2.

At a pressconference after the vote, Delegate Jennifer Caroll Foy (D-Prince William) said the ERA was as necessary now as ever. Foy carried the bill in the House of Delegates.

“I amsick andtired of people telling us that 'you have made it',” Foy said. "'Be okay with what you have been given'.”

Foy suggested said while this year’s fight may be over, she is not done.

“The only thing you’ve done is add fuel to our fire,” she said. “Because we will come back next session and we will make this happen”

Other ERA advocates say there’s a chance House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) could save the bill by bringing it to the full House Privileges and Elections Committee.

But Cox hasn’t signaled he’ll give the bill any special treatment.

He told WCVE it would go through the same process as any other resolution or bill in the House. And when asked about his own feelings on the ERA, his press secretary intervened before they walked away.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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