RICHMOND, Va. — A handful of men and women who want Virginia to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment rallied outside a committee meeting room at the General Assembly, holding signs that read “Equal Means Equal” and “ERA.”
But the House Privileges and Elections Committee decided to shelve the ERA, which would guarantee women and men equal rights, for another year.
“This is the fifth year in a row we have passed [the amendment] with bipartisan support in the Senate. And on crossover, you see that it’s not only ignored but completely obstructed,” said Eileen Davis, co-founder of the group Women Matter. “At what point are you simply obstructing the democratic process? We’re not giving up.”
The ERA would put in the U.S. Constitution a 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.” Congress proposed the amendment in 1972 and gave the states 10 years to ratify it. It was never added to the Constitution because it was not ratified by the necessary 38 states.
Virginia would have become the 36th state to approve the ERA under Senate Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Democratic Sens. Scott Surovell of Mount Vernon and Jennifer Wexton of Leesburg.
The resolution, which cleared the Senate on a 21-19 vote on Jan. 26, maintained that the ERA still could be ratified despite the expiration of the 10-year ratification period set by Congress.
After its approval by the Senate, SJR 1 crossed over to the House, where it was assigned to the House Privileges and Elections Committee. That panel already had killed an identical measure – House Joint Resolution 136, sponsored by Del. Mark D. Sickles, D-Fairfax. On Friday, it did the same to the Senate counterpart.
Sickles and other ERA supporters were disappointed.
“I’m for equality for everybody,” Sickles said. “The only sure way to have secure equality is through the Constitution.”
According to Sickles, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “said that women aren’t protected under the Constitution.”
“He was a big supporter of amendments and amending the Constitution: If you wanted to change something or find some right you didn’t think was there, amend the Constitution. This is the way we need to go under his philosophy,” Sickles said.
Opponents of resolutions to ratify the ERA say the measures are pointless because the ratification deadline passed on June 30, 1982. But the resolutions’ supporters disagree.
“There are other constitutional amendments that have lain dormant for years and years,” said Del. Jennifer Boysko, D-Herndon. “And they have gotten traction and eventually passed as well.”
In particular, ERA supporters cite the 27th Amendment, about compensation for members of Congress. That amendment was submitted to the states in 1789 and wasn’t ratified until 1992.
“We shouldn’t have to wait for any of our fundamental rights,” Sickles said. “But it’s been our history. Look how long it took us to stop Jim Crow and segregation – and we’re still having lingering effects of that today.”
Another issue is that many young women do not even know the ERA hasn’t been ratified, Davis said. “Many think everything is fine.”
But everything is not fine, Boysko said. “There are studies that show that a man and a woman – equal in grades in graduate school – get out, go to the same firm and within five years, the man is making 20 percent more than she is.”
Davis said that more than 70 percent of Americans believe the ERA has already been ratified. That misconception is even more prevalent among people under 40.
“When we get the word out, there’s going to be a huge outcry,” said Davis, who has urged members of the House of Delegates to approve the resolution. “But part of the reason word’s not getting out is because it’s being suppressed in this chamber.”
Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, supports the ERA and its ratification. “In 2016, what kind of signal are we sending that we do not want women to be equal in the eyes of the Constitution as men? We should be well past this debate.”
Danette Fulk, a Republican and military veteran who was among the ERA supporters at Friday’s hearing, likened the issue to the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” including newly freed slaves.
“The 14th Amendment was passed in 1868,” Fulk said. “But it took 100 years to come up with the walls – the legislation that supported that foundation. We’re a little bit flipped. We’ve had some of these walls built that can be torn down, but we don’t have the foundation. The ERA would be that foundation.”
Sickles is unsure whether he will continue to sponsor an ERA ratification resolution next session. But he assured the activists, “It doesn’t matter who the patron is” as long as someone keeps pushing the issue.
Sickles is confident the ERA will eventually be ratified. “A big shift is coming in our country,” he said. “We have a cultural grand canyon now on so many social issues.”
By Rachel Beatrice/Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.
What the Resolution Says
Here is the text of Senate Joint Resolution 1 to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
WHEREAS, a concurrent or joint resolution is a resolution adopted by both houses of a bicameral legislature, which does not require the signature of the chief executive, and a concurrent resolution is sufficient for a state’s ratification of an amendment to the United States Constitution; and
WHEREAS, the United States Congress adopted the 27th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the so-called Madison Amendment, relating to compensation of members of Congress; and
WHEREAS, the Madison Amendment was proposed by our first Congress and only recently ratified by three-fourths of the states, and the Archivist of the United States certified the 27th Amendment on May 18, 1992, or 203 years after it was first proposed; and
WHEREAS, the founders of our nation, James Madison included, did not favor further restrictions to Article V of the United States Constitution, the amending procedure; and
WHEREAS, the United States Constitution is harder to amend than any other constitution in history; and
WHEREAS, the restricting time limit for the Equal Rights Amendment ratification is in the resolving clause and is not a part of the amendment proposed by Congress and already ratified by 35 states; and
WHEREAS, 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; and
WHEREAS, since Congress passed a time extension for the Equal Rights Amendment on October 20, 1978, Congress has demonstrated that a time limit in a resolving clause can be disregarded if it is not a part of the proposed amendment; and
WHEREAS, Congress is in a unique position to judge the tenor of the nation, to be aware of the political, social, and economic factors affecting the nation, and to be aware of the importance to the nation of the proposed amendment; and
WHEREAS, if an amendment to the United States Constitution has been proposed by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, it is for Congress to determine the validity of the state ratifications occurring after a time limit in the resolving clause, but not in the amendment itself; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED by the Senate, the House of Delegates concurring, That the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia hereby ratify and affirm the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution proposed by the United States Congress on March 22, 1972, and ratified by 35 state legislatures. The complete text of House Joint Resolution 208 proposing the Equal Rights Amendment follows:
HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION 208
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.”; and, be it
RESOLVED FURTHER, That the Clerk of the Senate transmit certified copies of this joint resolution to the President of the United States, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the President of the United States Senate, the members of the Virginia Congressional Delegation, and the Archivist of the United States at the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States.