ERA Dies in Virginia House Subcommittee

Ally McAlpine/Fourth Estate

Opponents celebrate as supporters look toward 2019 elections


Efforts for Virginia to become the 38th and final state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) into the U.S. constitution died in the Virginia House of Delegates’ Privileges and Elections Subcommittee on Tuesday, Jan. 22 in a 4-2 vote.

If Virginia had passed the ERA, it would have reached the required three-quarters of states to officially make it an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ERA would mandate that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” per Section 1. Many are unaware that the Constitution does not currently give protection from sex discrimination.

The failing vote comes as a shock to ERA activists and supporters who thought they had gained enough momentum across party lines to pass the resolution. One advocacy campaign, VAratifyERA, used a statewide bus tour last November to gain support for the amendment, including a stop at Mason.

Activists had reason to be hopeful: A poll conducted by the Watson Center for Public Policy published on Dec. 5 found that 81 percent of Virginia voters support the ERA.

Despite the seemingly overwhelming support, the bill failed to make it out of subcommittee following similar failed efforts from past years in the Virginia House of Delegates.

“This resolution has come after this committee year after year, meaning we are very aware of this resolution, and it’s a thoroughly understood issue,” argued Subcommittee Chairwoman Margaret B. Ransone (R-Westmoreland) in a speech ahead of the vote. “I don’t need words on a piece of paper—God made us all equal.”

Other opponents of the amendment cited that it would make it harder to limit women’s access to abortions or separate bathrooms based on gender, among other issues.

The ERA was first introduced by Alice Paul in 1923, but the amendment made little congressional progress until the 1970s, when it fell three states short of the 38 required to ratify it. The amendment’s validity has been called into question in recent efforts, since the ratification deadline imposed by Congress passed in 1982.

States that have made advances toward ratifying the ERA in recent years include Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and Utah, among others.

Supporters of the ERA are now looking toward the upcoming elections this fall, hoping to both vote opponents of the bill out of power and to flip control of the House of Delegates in Democrats’ favor. Every seat in the General Assembly will be up for re-election on the ballot come this November.

“If we can’t change their minds, we change their seats,” said Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Woodbridge), a proponent of the bill, in a statement following the vote.