By Chelsea Jackson
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Groups pushing for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution will screen a film Tuesday night at the Byrd Theatre about gender discrimination and its impact on American society.
The film, “Equal Means Equal,” is a documentary directed by Kamala Lopez, who has spent several years studying the topic. She heads an organization also called Equal Means Equal.
“I believe that the addition of a gender equality clause to the United States Constitution is not only the first necessary action to fix the problem, but the ONLY single action that will effectively begin to address what is a systemic and institutional crisis,” Lopez has written.
If added to the U.S. Constitution, the ERA would guarantee 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.”
The screening of “Equal Means Equal” will take place at the Byrd Theatre, 2908 W. Cary St., at 6 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets can be purchased in advance through Eventbrite.
The ERA has a long history. It was originally written by suffragist Alice Paul and introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1923. In 1972, Congress approved the amendment and sent it to the states.
A constitutional amendment requires ratification by 38 states. But only 35 approved the ERA before the deadline (originally 1979 and later extended to 1982).
However, ERA supporters say there’s a legal basis for waiving the deadline. The Nevada Legislature ratified the amendment last year, and groups like Women Matter hope Virginia will follow suit.
Katie Hornung from Women Matter said many people are unaware that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee equal rights for women.
“With women just getting really engaged politically all of a sudden in ways they haven’t been, there has been a push for education about what rights are and aren’t in the Constitution,” Hornung said.
The fight to ratify the ERA may have gained momentum with the national discourse about sexual harassment and gender equity and social media campaigns such as #metoo and #yesallwomen.
Three resolutions have been introduced before the 2018 General Assembly to have Virginia ratify the ERA:
- House Joint Resolution 2, sponsored by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax
- HJR 4, filed by Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington
- Senate Joint Resolution 4, introduced by Sen. Scott A. Surovell, D-Fairfax
A similar proposal by Surovell was killed in the Senate Rules Committee last year. His legislative assistant, Philip Scranage, said Surovell believes the amendment has a better chance this time around.
His optimism stems partly from the election of 12 additional women to the Virginia House of Delegates, bringing hopes of change for this legislative session.
What the ERA says
Here is the full text of House Joint Resolution 208 as approved by Congress in 1972:
Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to equal rights for men and women.
Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled (two-thirds of each House concurring therein), That the following article is proposed as an amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which shall be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the Constitution when ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission by the Congress:
“Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
“Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
“Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”