Today, with Equal Rights Amendment supporters filling the galleries, the Virginia Senate by an 28-12 vote and the Virginia House by a 59-41 vote ratified the federal Equal Rights Amendment. These decisive votes by the Virginia general assembly make Virginia the 38th and final state necessary to ratify the ERA and to make it a part of the U.S. Constitution.
“At last! At last!” proclaimed Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority and former president of the National Organization for Women.
“I have had the privilege of being one of the leaders in the ERA fight for nearly 50 years,” Smeal explained in a statement. “I always knew this day would come. It has never been a question of if, but only a question of when the ERA would be ratified. The fight for the ERA has been long because we’ve had a powerful entrenched opposition who has wanted to preserve the old order of women being forced to work twice as hard for half as much and paying more for less. But this time of taking advantage of women and their families is coming to an end.”
The ERA declares simply: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States, or by any state, on account of sex.”
“When we started this drive for the ERA in the late 1960s and early 1970s, women were less than three percent of the members of Congress and less than 10 percent of state legislatures,” Smeal recalled. “Because of the difficulty of passing the ERA and other legislation involving women’s rights, more and more women have decided to run for office and a gender gap in women’s voting began to emerge first in 1980 in the fight for the ERA and has now become a major force in American elections. We recognize that this is not the last fight for the ERA. We are entering into a legal fight for it to be recognized. The arbitrary timeline put in the preamble of the ERA, which would not be in the Constitution, we believe is not binding. The national ERA campaign is going to continue to win even more states and to win ratification for state ERAs in state Constitutions. We are intent on finally getting the job done of winning full equality in this country.”
Virginia’s decision to ratify comes amidst a landmark period for women in state politics. Eileen Filler-Corn (D) is currently the first woman speaker in its 400 year history of its legislature, and Charniele Herring, the House Majority leader, is the first African American woman to be House Majority leader. The two co-sponsors of ERA ratification, Jennifer Carroll Foy and Hala Ayala, both women of color elected for the first time in 2017, have been leading the fight on the House floor.
“I’ve fought for the passage of the ERA for over a decade, long before I was elected to office—that is why I’m proud to be the chief co-patron for the ERA as its passage finally guarantees true gender equality in the U.S. Constitution,” said Ayala, who is also founder of Prince William County Chapter of NOW. “Today is a major victory for women and girls throughout the country.”
“The world is watching,” Carroll Foy said in her closing statement. “Your mothers, your sisters, your daughters and I want to be unequivocally clear that there is only one way to spell equality: E-R-A.”