After years of partisan disagreement over the Equal Rights Amendment, the Virginia legislature this week finally ratified it. Legislators’ action on this amendment now sets up a fight over whether or not this amendment should be added to the U.S. Constitution.
The Equal Rights amendment states:
Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.
Congress passed the ERA in 1972 and sent it to states for ratification. The original resolution required that the necessary number of states (38, or three-fourths of the states) must act within 7 years or the amendment would die. Not enough states ratified the amendment within that time, so Congress extended the deadline to 1982. Even with this extended deadline, the ERA still failed to meet the necessary number of states for ratification.
During this time, 35 states ratified the ERA. However, as controversy grew over the amendment, 5 states rescinded their ratification. Since 2017, 3 states (including Virginia) have ratified the ERA. Democratic Virginia legislators have been attempting to pass the ERA in recent years, but their efforts were thwarted by the Republican majority. In last year's elections, Virginia voters gave Democrats the majority in the legislature.
The issue of whether states can rescind their ratification is a controversial one, with many experts saying that these rescissions are not valid. The statutory deadline for ratification is also under question. The Trump Administration has issued an opinion stating that even with 38 states ratifying the ERA (which does not count states that have rescinded their ratification), the congressionally-imposed deadline should bar the amendment from being added to the Constitution.
Virginia legislators were aware of these controversies, but dismissed them. They argued that it was their job to pass the amendment to support equal rights, recognizing that there will be a legal battle over whether the amendment will become part of the Constitution.
Supporters of the ERA say it is necessary to have a constitutional bar against discrimination based on sex. They argue that this is the only way to ensure that women’s rights are protected. Opponents counter that the Constitution already prohibits discrimination and that this amendment could lead courts to strike down restrictions on abortion.
Do you support the Equal Rights Amendment?