Virginia State Senate passes resolution to ratify Equal Rights Amendment development

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While the Virginia State Senate passed the resolution to ratify the ERA, State Sen. Monty Mason '89 fears it doesn't have a fair chance. COURTESY PHOTO / WIKIMEDIA

Tuesday, Jan. 15, the Virginia State Senate passed a resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment by a vote of 26-14. If a similar resolution passes in the House of Delegates, Virginia could make history by becoming the 38th and final state needed to ratify the ERA before it becomes law.

The ERA is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would explicitly forbid sex-based discrimination. It was originally approved by Congress in 1972, but it was only ratified by 35 states, just shy of the 38 needed to become law. After a recent surge in popularity, Illinois and Nevada became the 36th and 37th states to ratify the ERA, leaving only one more state to go.

Virginia has tried to ratify the ERA before. In fact, between 2011 and 2016, the Virginia General Assembly tried to ratify the ERA five times. Each time, the House of Delegates blocked the proposal. However, with the increased role of women in Virginia politics, some individuals, like Virginia Del. Mike Mullin, are optimistic about the ERA’s chances.

“I think that we have a greater likelihood of success than at any other time in the last 40 years,” Mullin said. “We have the votes, we just need to get it to the floor of the House. So, our goal is to be able to make sure that it gets out of subcommittee and onto the floor, where people can stand up and in one voice say that we will be the 38th state to ratify the ERA.”

“I think that we have a greater likelihood of success than at any other time in the last 40 years,” Mullin said. “We have the votes, we just need to get it to the floor of the House. So, our goal is to be able to make sure that it gets out of subcommittee and onto the floor, where people can stand up and in one voice say that we will be the 38th state to ratify the ERA.”

However, getting a resolution out of committee can be an arduous process. The ERA has ardent critics, many of whom belong to the Republican party. Those against the ERA argue that it would create a double standard for women, that it would enshrine abortion rights in the Constitution, or that it would be simply unnecessary.

Nonetheless, on the senate side, the ERA had bipartisan support, with seven Republicans joining all 19 Democrats to vote for the resolution. On the House side, it still has not come to a vote, meaning the proposal is still in a Republican-controlled committee.

According to Virginia State Sen. Monty Mason ’89, the ERA proposal was assigned to the privileges and elections committee, and it may or may not make it to the House floor.

“Being assigned to the privileges and elections committee in the House may not give it a fair shake; it is a very difficult committee for a number of issues,” Mason said. “Looking at past history, its opportunity in committee or subcommittee on the House side doesn’t look that good, but I was pleased that we picked up several folks from the other side.”

Even if Virginia were to ratify the ERA, the bill still has an uphill battle due to legal complications.

Because it was not ratified within the time frame specified in the original bill, some argue that the ERA has expired and therefore is no longer eligible to become an amendment. Mullin said he disagrees with this idea.

“Even if that were the case, Congress could always go back and re-up the authorization and extend it, retroactively allowing the 38th state that approved it to handle it,” Mullin said. “Even, by the way, if that were the case, why not still take a stand and say that we’re for equality?”

Mullin said that this is what the ERA is all about: taking a practical and symbolic stand for gender equality.

“We will finally codify gender equality in the Constitution for the first time. It’s a real opportunity to make sure that all men and women are treated equally,” Mullin said. “There’s no mention of women in the Constitution. It’s always men. This short phrase will finally be able to fix that after the entire history of our country.”

“We will finally codify gender equality in the Constitution for the first time. It’s a real opportunity to make sure that all men and women are treated equally,” Mullin said. “There’s no mention of women in the Constitution. It’s always men. This short phrase will finally be able to fix that after the entire history of our country.”

The senate’s ERA resolution generated much buzz in Virginia politics. Students and political groups on campus attended the Williamsburg Women’s March Saturday, Jan. 19, where the ERA was a large topic of discussion.

Some students, like Colin Cochran ’21, who is  a member of the William and Mary Young Democratic Socialists,  argue strongly for the ratification of the Equal Rights AmendmentERA.

“The ERA is important because it would enshrine the abolition of sex and gender-based discrimination in the Constitution,” Cochran said in an email. “It would be an important step to affirm the commitment of the country to gender equality. I also think the fight for equality shouldn’t just take place in the legislative sphere, and we shouldn’t believe the ERA to be a panacea. Other forms of organization and activism towards social, economic, and political equality can be as valuable as legislation in terms of delivering material benefits to women.”

Whether or not the ERA passes in the House of Delegates, the potential for a constitutional amendment forbidding sex-based discrimination has garnered much enthusiasm.

“How exciting, how apropos would it be that in the 100th year of women at the College of William and Mary, and with our first, spectacular female president in our history, that Virginia becomes the 38th state to ratify,” Mason said. “So, I think that for our story at William and Mary, it would be pretty neat.”