Activism Politics

Virginia Becomes the 38th State to Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment

The United States has never been closer to officially creating an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the U.S. Constitution. On Tuesday, January 14, a Virginia statehouse committee approved a measure to “bring the amendment to a full vote” which was voted upon by the Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate on Wednesday, January 15.

With a vote of 59 ‘yay’ to 41 ‘nay’ in the Virginia House and 28 ‘yay’ to 12 ‘nay’ in the Virginia Senate, Virginia has just become the 38th state to ratify the amendment designed to “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 divorce, property, employment, and other matters.” The significance of the number 38 comes from the requirement that all proposed amendments receive the approval of at least 38 states in order to be added to the Constitution–and early ERA advocates have awaiting that number since 1972 when Congress passed the resolution.

The ERA would allow more protections and rights for U.S. women while also impacting the creation of new laws in areas that concern gender discrimination or the wage gap, just to name a few. Even with the excitement of progress, the road ahead remains hazy as the ERA is expected to face some battles in court before being adopted.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority and former president of the National Organization for Women, notes that, “We recognize that this is not the last fight for the ERA. We are entering into a legal fight for it to be recognized. The arbitrary timeline put in the preamble of the ERA, which would not be in the Constitution, we believe is not binding. The national ERA campaign is going to continue to win even more states and to win ratification for state ERAs in state Constitutions. We are intent on finally getting the job done of winning full equality in this country.”

One issue weighing heavily on everyone’s minds is the reality of Congress’s 1972 resolution that “enacted a deadline of seven years for the measure to get its 38-state minimum ratification.” The deadline was again extended to 1982, but at the time only 35 states had ratified. However, ERA momentum has since picked back up as Nevada (2016), Illinois (2018), and Virginia (2020) have joined the fight regardless of the deadline as “advocates say Article V of the Constitution explicitly states than an amendment proposal be ratified once the 38-state limit is met, with no stipulation for deadlines.”

The U.S. House Oversight Committee recently passed a resolution to remove the arbitrary timeline which the House and Senate will vote on next.

Source: ABC News 1/12/20; 1/15/20

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