Both chambers of the Virginia state legislature passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) on Wednesday, becoming the 38th state to pass the resolution.
The amendment’s passage in Virginia crosses the threshold necessary for it to be included in the U.S. Constitution and sets the stage for all 38 states to call for a historic constitutional convention.
“As we enter this new, more inclusive, diverse, and accountable government that mirrors the values of today's Virginians, it is important that our actions reflect those ideals,” said state House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D). “After nearly 100 years of working to put equality into the Constitution, a document that lays out our nation's most fundamental rights and laws, we are taking the historic step to make ratification a reality. Finally, women will be represented in the Constitution.”
“As a longtime supporter and champion of women’s equality, I’m proud to see the Senate passage of the ERA with bipartisan support,” added state Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw. “The time has come to write women into the United States Constitution.”
Democratic lawmakers in the state have pushed for the passage of the amendment since the party gained control of both chambers of the legislature in 2019 for the first time since 1994.
Women’s rights advocates led the effort to ratify the amendment, making it an important issue during last year’s statewide elections. Proponents have maintained that the ERA will protect women from discrimination and gender-based violence at a time of heightened attention to women's issues sparked by the "Me Too" movement.
The ERA would add language to the Constitution ensuring 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.” It would also grant Congress the power to enforce the amendment.
“We should never take rights for granted, and we should also not assume the experiences of others match your own,” state Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Mamie Locke said on the floor before the ERA vote. “Voting in support of equality is not a difficult or tricky proposition. It is simply the right thing to do.”
Some of the chamber’s Republicans came out against the amendment, fearing it would expand abortion access and arguing that existing constitutional amendments already provide sufficient protections.
“The ERA does nothing for true equality of women but uses women as a political pawn to push the liberal agenda,” said state Sen. Amanda Chase (R), adding that the resolution would “be used to overturn all restrictions on abortions.”
The text of the amendment does not refer to abortions.
Opponents of the ERA have also vowed to wage a court battle against the amendment, citing a 1982 ratification deadline set by Congress. The Justice Department also issued an opinion last week saying the ERA is no longer legally pending before the states because the deadline passed. The National Archives and Records Administration, which oversees the ratification of constitutional amendments, said it would abide by that deadline.
Democrats dismissed arguments against the ERA because of the deadline, saying it was important as legislators to take the vote and let the courts separately do their work.
“You may worry a bit on how it will be implemented or how it will be litigated, but we have a judicial system, and that’s what the judicial system is for,” state Sen. Barbara Favola (D) said.
“We need to do this,” Favola added.
Despite the controversy over the ratification's timing, the amendment passed both chambers of the legislature with bipartisan support, with some Republicans saying they supported the message of the ERA regardless of whether the deadline has passed.
“Equality is a message I think we should leave to our daughters,” said state Sen. Jennifer Kiggins (R). “I’m always ready to support an effort to allow every American to achieve their potential.”