By Laura Saul Edwards
I wholeheartedly support an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and while there are many reasons to fight for it, here are three that are important to me.
I will never forget the day I discovered that a male colleague with the same job title and responsibilities earned more than I did, despite having worked fewer years in the same office. It was a soul-searing experience that left me depressed, enraged and hurt. It is unacceptable to treat women as second-class citizens by denying them equal civil rights in a nation that values equality and opportunity for all. I do not want this future for my daughter or any other woman.
So first, ERA ratification is essential to guaranteeing that “…equality of rights under law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex,” as affirmed in the ERA text. The Constitution is the last word on civil rights, yet a ban against gender discrimination is not in this foundational document. Lack of equality under law on the basis of sex is a glaring omission rendering our Constitution incomplete.
Yes, Congress has enacted laws to improve civil rights protections on the basis of sex. But legislation can be amended, repealed or invalidated in part, as happened in 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the civil remedy provision in the Violence Against Women Act.
Enshrining the ERA in the Constitution will confirm gender equity is protected and subject to the same high standard as the prohibition against discrimination on the basis of race, national origin and religion. This is because the ERA would require judges to apply strict scrutiny — and not weaker intermediate scrutiny as is now the case — when deciding sex discrimination lawsuits.
State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) made precisely this argument when she pointed out: “Women are left out of the Constitution. We merit the same rights as men…and they should be explicitly stated.”
Second, Virginians want the General Assembly to pass ERA! A poll conducted by the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University reports strong bipartisan approval across demographic lines. Overall, 81 percent of Virginia’s voters support ERA ratification. Among men, older voters and in House and Senate districts represented by Republicans, support for the amendment reaches 60 percent to 70 percent. These results offer clear-cut direction for elected officials to vote “yea.”
Locally, the Arlington County Civic Federation and Arlington Democrats have adopted resolutions in support of ERA. The Arlington County Board also made ratification of ERA one of its policy priorities in 2019.
Julia Tanner, president of the Equal Rights Coalition (a regional network working for ratification of the amendment) observed, “Virginia has a long history of amending the Constitution to uphold our inalienable rights. We brought the Bill of Rights into the Constitution. Now we have momentum to include women in that Bill of Rights.”
Third, Virginia can make history by approving the ERA. Virginia would be the 38th state to ratify the amendment, moving gender equity one step closer to reality by reaching the threshold of three-fourths of the states needed for making it part of the Constitution.
Virginia is doing its part to get ERA to the finish line. Last week the Virginia Senate passed a resolution to ratify the amendment on a 26 to 41 vote. The next step is in the House of Delegates.
Earlier this week, the ERA amendment was defeated by a 4 to 2 vote in a subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee. However, Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-66th District) has the authority to ensure the amendment is brought before the full House of Delegates.
Despite this mounting excitement, strong support and demonstrated need for equal protection, it is sobering that Virginia has tried before and come up short on passing ERA.
Supporters must therefore be vigilant, especially in the face of a recurring claim by opponents that the deadline has expired for states to ratify the amendment. The original deadline is in the amendment’s preamble, not the amendment text, and Congress passed a subsequent deadline that has expired. However, a Congressional Research Service white paper established that the amendment could be added to the Constitution regardless of the ratification date.
Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring also examined this issue and determined “…the lapse of the ERA’s original and extended ratification periods has not disempowered the General Assembly from passing a ratify resolution.”
My keen and ardent hope is that the General Assembly helps Virginia make history by approving the Equal Rights Amendment. By doing so, our state would bring our nation a vital step closer to finally adding equality of the sexes to the Constitution.
Laura Saul Edwards has lived in Arlington County since 1994. She serves on the School Board’s Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Projects (FAC) and is an APS 2012 Honored Citizen.
Please call Speaker of the VA House of Delegates Kirk Cox at (804) 698 – 1066 and ask him to guarantee the ERA amendment is given a full and fair vote on the House floor in this session.