Virginia Makes It Official: Women Are People
Virginia has quickly demonstrated all the good you can do when you literally "throw the bums out." Democrats won majorities in both chambers of the legislature last year. Women now lead both the House of Delegates and the Senate, and they're completing some unfinished business. Wednesday, the General Assembly passed the Equal Rights Amendment, making Virginia the 38th and final state necessary to approve the amendment.
House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn set off cheers in the Capitol when she declared, "For the women of Virginia and the women of America, the resolution has finally passed." Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy was the resolution's chief sponsor in the House, and it's been a long-fought battle. How long? Del. Vivian Watts demonstrated for the ERA in Washington 44 years ago. She proudly showed a photo of herself with her daughter, who was then 14 years old. She voted for the resolution yesterday while wearing the same sash she wore in the photo.
WATTS: It should be ancient history. Forty-four years is a long time to wait.
The ERA states that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." During their 26 years in power, Republicans had Republican-ed all over the ERA in the House of Delegates, blocking it at every turn. Republicans thought they'd killed it for good last February. They were wrong. They just pissed off a lot of women who paid them back at the ballot box. Republicans tried to rain on the equality parade. They claim the vote is just symbolic virtue signaling because it's unclear if the amendment can be ratified so long after it was originally approved.
Time for some quick history
The ERA was first proposed in 1923, shortly after women won the right to vote. It showed up undaunted at every session of Congress until it was finally passed in 1972. The clock then started ticking for three-quarters of the states to ratify the amendment by March 22, 1979. Congress extended the deadline to June 22, 1982, but only 35 of the required 38 states legislatures ratified the ERA by this point. The amendment had failed or at least that's what most men believed.
Although supportive of the ERA while governor of California, Ronald Reagan opposed it as president when he suddenly remembered the existence of the 14th Amendment. That was his excuse, at least: The 14th amendment already granted everyone -- even former slaves -- equal protection under the law, except it didn't (no matter what Ainsley Hayes believed on the "West Wing"). Women were and still are actively discriminated against.
ERA supporters argue that the congressional deadlines don't count because they aren't in the text of the amendment. Legislatures in Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Tennessee have since rescinded their ratifications, but ERA supporters also claim there's no provision for "backsies" in the Constitution. The US Justice Department concluded last week that the deadline was constitutional, so the amendment is as valid as an old Blockbuster membership and can't be ratified. This is the same Justice Department led by Bill Barr, who probably thinks the ERA is a gateway to organized witchcraft.
Conservatives who oppose the ERA claim that the amendment will make it harder to limit abortion (hey, they're right for once) and even make it illegal to separate sexes in bathrooms, college dormitories, and school sports. It's not just dogs and cats living together but men and women -- mass hysteria!
Republican Amanda Chase, the state senator no one likes, declared on the floor yesterday that the "so-called Equal Rights Amendment will not give women any more rights than they have today." Other conservative critics went so far as to argue that women legislators having the power to pass the ERA proves the ERA isn't necessary. That's some mighty fine double talk they pulled out of their asses there.
Everyone involved with this historic vote deserves our praise and thanks, but let's end this with some moving words from Del. Foy. During an interview with Jezebel, she threw down the gauntlet. We're going to see a lot more of her leadership.
FOY: I'm trying to emphasize that this is not a moment, this is a movement. Women in power is something that everyone should get used to. We will own a seat at the table and we're not going to go anywhere. I want to encourage, women—black women, Latinas, Asian women, women everywhere—to take up the charge, because we cannot believe that our fundamental rights are guaranteed. There is a war against women that's happening throughout the country, and that's not hyperbole. You look at all of the attacks on women's ability to control their reproductive health care, denying women's access to birth control. It's astonishing. The only thing that we can do is let everyone know that we are here, we will be heard, and we're a force to be reckoned with.
Just three Republicans in the House and seven in the Senate voted to pass the ERA. The House vote technically includes four Republicans because Wendell Walker claims his "yes" vote was an error and is filing a vote change. He couldn't even accept doing the right thing by accident. Virginia is much better off with women like Foy at the helm.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.