The Equal Rights Amendment — which bars discrimination based on sex — might now be set to become part of the U.S. Constitution, after the Virginia General Assembly voted Monday to ratify it.
Supporters celebrated what they saw as a momentous day that could make the ERA the 28th Amendment, and they celebrated the fact that women were presiding over both the Virginia House and Senate as the resolution was agreed to.
House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn is Virginia’s first female speaker, and Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax stepped off the dais in the Senate to allow another glass-ceiling-breaker, President pro tempore Louise Lucas, to hold the gavel for the vote.
“We must begin to see a world without discrimination of any kind,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton City, speaking in support of the measure. “Equality based on sex is not just good for women, it is good for society.”
“After nearly 100 years of persistent, determined work, the ERA is on fire,” Carol Jenkins, co-president and CEO of the nationwide ERA Coalition, told The Associated Press.
Each chamber had approved its own versions of the resolution earlier this month — 59-41 in the House and 28-12 in the Senate — with all Democrats and some Republicans backing the measures.
Monday’s votes on the resolutions in the opposite chambers officially approved the measures.
Planned or filed lawsuits surrounding the amendment raise issues about whether a long-past 1982 deadline set by Congress means the amendment process would need to start over, and whether some states have successfully rescinded their ratification.
Still, supporters of the amendment — which reads, “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” — said Monday’s votes make Virginia the 38th and final state needed to ratify the amendment.
Advocates said that would provide more protections in sex discrimination cases. The proposed amendment also gives Congress the power to make laws to enforce the discrimination protections.
Virginia will submit copies of the ratification resolution to the National Archives and Records Administration, which is ultimately responsible for officially adding amendments to the Constitution. Lawsuits have already been filed in federal court aiming to either block or permit that addition.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has said his office has been preparing for potential challenges to the state’s ratification and is ready to go to court if necessary. “To the naysayers and to the opponents of women’s equality, I say do not underestimate Virginia and do not underestimate this movement,” Herring said at a news conference Monday.
The Trump administration has issued an opinion that the amendment is dead, which the National Archives said is the interpretation it will follow unless a court directs otherwise.
Opponents of the ERA include anti-abortion groups that are concerned the amendment could be used to support protections for abortion rights.
“The vague, poorly written language of the ERA does not allow any distinction to be made between men and women, even when it makes sense to do so based on their biological differences,” said Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Colonial Heights.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.