The coming Democratic takeover of the Virginia legislature has cleared the path for the state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which would ban discrimination on the basis of sex and guarantee equality for women under the Constitution.
Earlier this year, the state Senate voted to advance the ERA. But the bipartisan progress was halted in the House of Delegates, where Republican opponents blocked a full floor vote. The new Democratic legislative majority is poised now to finish the job — and make Virginia the critical 38th state to back the amendment.
As they celebrated their sweep in Richmond, top Virginia Democrats promised the ERA would be a priority in 2020.
“One thing we are going to need to do right away is pass the Equal Rights Amendment in a Virginia,” state Senate Democratic leader Dick Saslaw told a cheering crowd. “It’s high time we include the women of this country in the Constitution of the United States.”
Eileen Filler-Corn, who is in line to become the state’s first female House speaker, also delighted supporters with a call to “pass the ERA!”
The US Senate did just that in 1972, months after the US House of Representatives, sending the amendment to the states. But the push for ratification fell short of the 38, or three-fourths, required to back it. Multiple deadlines came and went as supporters lobbied, unsuccessfully, for decades to secure the needed supermajority.
Still, there is uncertainty surrounding the ERA’s prospects.
Even if Virginia acts as expected next year, there is no guarantee the amendment would take hold. A handful of the states that initially ratified the ERA have since rescinded those decisions and the most recent congressional deadline passed about four decades ago. Despite those roadblocks, activists believe they are well-positioned — legally and politically — to push the amendment, which was written by the suffragist Alice Paul in 1923, over the line.
“Tonight, we are finally within reach of true equality for girls and women in the United States, thanks to the voters of Virginia and supporters across the country,” Jessica Neuwirth and Carol Jenkins, co-presidents of The ERA Coalition, said in a statement late Tuesday. “In January of 2020, these elected officials will take up ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. They stand a very good chance of becoming the 38th and final state we need to ratify this amendment into the U.S. Constitution.”
Neuwirth and Jenkins also called on Congress to “remove the ERA ratification deadline to facilitate the recognition of constitutional equality for women in this country.” Such a move is unlikely with Republicans in control of the Senate and amid continued conservative opposition to the amendment.
Tuesday’s election solidified the Old Dominion’s shift toward the modern Democratic Party — and one of its longest-running fights.
Both of Virginia’s US senators are Democrats, as are seven of its 11 US House members. A number of the new state delegates-elect in Virginia campaigned on their support for the ERA. The grassroots group VAratifyERA live-tweeted the victories of “equality delegates,” who are expected to back the amendment, as the results came rolling in.
Virginia elected Gov. Ralph Northam in 2017 to succeed fellow Democrat Terry McAuliffe as the party made gains in the state House. In the aftermath, enough Republicans cut across party lines to make a deal with Northam to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the Commonwealth since the incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. President Obama won it again four years later and Hillary Clinton continued the streak in 2016.