By Chelsea Jackson
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The fight to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia has gained momentum with the national discourse about sexual harassment and gender equity and social media campaigns such as #MeToo and #YesAllWomen.
Many people are unaware that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee equal rights for women, said Katie Hornung of Women Matter, a group dedicated to ratifying the ERA. 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 deadline for the ERA ratification expired decades ago, but many state legislators and groups such as Women Matter are still pushing for Virginia lawmakers’ approval.
“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 ERA 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.
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, and 14 other Democratic House members.
· HJR 4, filed by Democratic Dels. Alfonso Lopez of Arlington and Chris Hurst of Blacksburg.
· Senate Joint Resolution 4, introduced by Democratic Sens. Scott A. Surovell of Fairfax, and Jennifer Wexton of Loudoun County. The resolution has 17 co-sponsors in the Senate, including Republican Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant of Henrico County.
All of the resolutions have similar language.
“Constitutional equality for women and men continues to be a timely issue in the United States and worldwide, and a number of other nations have achieved constitutional equality for their women and men,” they state.
The resolutions argue that there is no legal basis for putting time limits on ratifying a constitutional amendment. ERA supporters note that the so-called Madison Amendment, relating to compensation of members of Congress, was proposed by our first U.S. Congress and wasn’t ratified until 203 years later.
Surovell also proposed a resolution to ratify the ERA last year. It was killed in the Senate Rules Committee. His legislative aide, Philip Scranage, said Surovell is sure 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. Several of them – including Democratic Dels. Karrie Delaney of Fairfax, Debra Rodman of Henrico and Danica Roem of Loudoun – are co-sponsoring the ERA ratification resolutions.
Eileen Bedell, who lost a bid for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District in 2016, said American women need the ERA.
“In the 21st century, many people will be shocked by the reminder women in America have only one constitutionally protected right, the right to vote,” Bedell said. “The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements need to be supported by constitutional protection for equal rights in order to have a chance to result in permanent, meaningful change.”
Several women’s rights advocacy groups are pushing the General Assembly to ratify the ERA. They include the National Organization for Women, Women Matter and the American Association of University Women. Such groups say the ERA must be ratified because equal rights are important for all and should not discriminate based on gender.
The AAUW and other groups are sponsoring a showing of a film Tuesday night at the Byrd Theatre in Richmond 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 wrote in a message to viewers on the Equal Means Equal website.
The screening of “Equal Means Equal” will take place at the Byrd Theatre, 2908 W. Cary St., at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets can be purchased in advance through Eventbrite.