How Virginia laws affect women: Equal Rights Amendment

By Keya Vakil

June 19, 2019

Check out the rest of our series on how Virginia laws affect women here.

For a brief moment, it looked as if this might be the year Virginia would finally ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. After years of opposition, seven Republicans in the state Senate joined all 19 Democrats in passing an ERA bill. But then Republicans in the House of Delegates blocked the measure.

Republicans’ opposition to the proposed amendment to the United States Constitution means that women still do not have the same guaranteed equal legal rights as men.

The Equal Rights Amendment is only twenty four words long, but those twenty four words aim to end the legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment, and other matters:

“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Ratification of the ERA would mean women have legal protections against discrimination on the basis of their sex, which would have ramifications for everything from the gender wage gap to women’s reproductive rights.

Had Virginia passed the bill, it would have been the 38th state to ratify the ERA, thus meeting the three-fourths threshold necessary for an amendment to become part of the Constitution of the United States.

Whether that would have actually happened is a genuine debate among legal scholars. Congress first passed the ERA in 1972 and initially set a ratification deadline of March 22, 1979 for state legislatures to consider the ERA.

Opponents of the ERA now say that even if a 38th state passed the bill, it wouldn’t matter because the federal deadline for ratification expired so long ago.

There’s also the complication that five states have voted to rescind their ERA ratifications, though advocates for the ERA claim that it is “most likely” that these rescissions are not valid.

Despite these legal hurdles, proponents of the amendment continue to push the 13 states who’ve yet to ratify the bill to do so in order to enshrine protections for women in the Constitution.

By opting not to ratify the ERA, Virginia Republicans risk painting themselves as the anti-woman party, a narrative that Democrats are likely to run with ahead of this year’s General Assembly elections, when all 140 seats in the legislature are on the ballot.

Should Democrats win control of the General Assembly in November, the ERA might again have life in Virginia. But if Republicans maintain control, it’s unlikely that the ERA will pass, especially since many of the Republican primary winners are opposed to the amendment.

And if the ERA doesn’t pass, women will continue to lack the legal protections that men have.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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