Virginia’s General Assembly on Wednesday approved resolutions to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, a century-long dream of progressives and feminists that would ban discrimination on the basis of sex and guarantee equality for women under the Constitution.
Both chambers are controlled by Democrats, who first passed it in the state’s House of Delegates by a 59-41 vote before the state Senate approved its companion resolution, 28-12. Seven Republican senators, including the Senate minority leader, joined with Democrats to approve the resolution.
The resolutions need to be formally approved by each chamber before Virginia officially becomes the 38th state to ratify the amendment, though the national effort is already facing legal challenges.
With enough support, the Senate could take up the House resolution for a vote in the full chamber as early as Monday, said Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar.
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.
Neither resolution requires the governor’s signature.
ERA advocates say the amendment is necessary, but opponents argue it will pave the way for greater abortion access and say equal-rights protections for women have already been enshrined at the federal and state levels.
Supporters of the ERA touted Wednesday’s votes as a historic moment decades in the making, including Democratic Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, the chief sponsor of the House resolution, who called it a “vote of a lifetime.”
“What side of history do you want to fall on? … The world is watching — your mother, your sisters, your daughters,” she said to her fellow lawmakers Wednesday ahead of the House’s vote.
Cheers and applause from supporters broke out in the House and Senate galleries as the measures passed each chamber.
Democratic Del. Vivian Watts, the longest-serving female lawmaker in the House, wore on Wednesday the same sash with the colors of women’s suffrage — purple, white and gold — that she had worn for a rally 44 years ago in Washington, DC, in support of the ERA.
“Given our history, it is poetic justice for Virginia to put the ERA over the top,” Sen. Jennifer McClellan, the Senate measure’s Democratic sponsor, said in a speech before the chamber’s vote. “And it would enshrine this session as a historic year for equality.”
Republican state Sen. Amanda Chase argued that the ERA does nothing for true equality, but uses women as a political pawn for liberal causes.
Democratic Sen. Mamie Locke, a co-chief patron of the Senate resolution, called objection to the ERA “baffling” and argued passing the ERA is “simply the right thing to do.”
Congress passed the ERA in 1972, sending the amendment to the states to ratify within a seven-year window. That deadline was later extended by three years to 1982. By the 1982 deadline, only 35 states had ratified the amendment — three-fourths of state legislatures, or 38 out of 50, are needed to amend the Constitution — though five that had earlier passed it had by then rescinded their support. In subsequent years, two more states — Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018 — have ratified the ERA.
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel said in a legal opinion made public last week that the deadline to ratify the ERA has expired and is no longer pending before the states. The opinion effectively prevents the archivist of the United States from verifying the ERA as Virginia is on the cusp of becoming the 38th state to ratify the amendment.
But the archivist’s authority doesn’t prevent states from acting on their own to ratify the amendment — or preclude them from legally challenging the Justice Department’s opinion in court.
Advocates say Congress can amend the deadline and reject the argument that states can rescind ratifications they’ve already passed. There are efforts underway in Congress to extend the deadline.
This story has been updated with additional reaction, details and background.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to note that the Senate minority leader voted with Democrats to approve the resolution.