Virginia Becomes 38th State To Ratify ERA But Lengthy Legal Battle Looms

Virginia Becomes 38th State To Ratify ERA But Lengthy Legal Battle Looms
Two women walk past a painting of the beginning of the U.S. Constitution during a preview of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Penn., on July 1, 2003. (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
Katabella Roberts
Virginia, on Jan. 15 became the 38th state to vote to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) after the Senate and House of Delegates voted to approve the change to the U.S. Constitution.

Democratic lawmakers in the state-approved two separate but similar resolutions that would ratify the ERA in Virginia. Its being hailed as a historical moment and significant victory for women’s rights groups.

It passed by a 59-41 margin in the House of Delegates and a 28-12 vote in the Senate.

The ERA’s provisions “guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex” and “seeks to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of a divorce, property, employment, and other matters.”

Despite Wednesday’s victory, questions about the original ERA ratification deadline are likely to spark a lengthy legal battle.

The ERA amendment was first proposed by the National Women's political party in 1923. However, it wasn’t until March. 22 1972 that it was passed by the U.S. Senate and sent to the states for ratification.

However, the deadline for 38 states to ratify the amendment passed ten years later in 1982, and five states that approved it in the 1970s have since rescinded those earlier approvals.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a finding on Jan. 6 declaring that the conflicting deadlines prevent ratification of the ERA, however, ERA supporters are trying to get the deadline invalidated.

These complications may potentially result in the ERA facing a number of significant hurdles before it can be successfully added to the Constitution. It continues to face opposition, particularly from those who fear it may be used by abortion advocates to stamp out abortion restrictions on the grounds they discriminate against women.

Despite the prospect of a legal battle, Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy (D), of Prince William County, who led Virginia’s House effort on Wednesday praised the move as a “historic day for women.”

“For too long, we’ve gone without protections from gender discrimination, allowing women and girls to be treated as second-class citizens, so it’s about time Virginia was on the right side of history.

“In passing this resolution, we’re finally on record as supporting women’s rights as human beings, equal to men—something that must also finally be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. I was so proud to introduce this resolution, and I look forward to seeing its impact on women across the country.”

State House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D) praised the move as a “historic step” that would finally represent women in the 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,” the House Speaker said.

“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.”

State Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw said he was “proud” to see the passage of the ERA, adding “The time has come to write women into the United States Constitution.”
A special assistant to the Virginia House clerk told CNN that the Senate's resolution could be taken up in the House as early as Monday.