Cheers erupted at the Capitol as the Equal Rights Amendment cleared both chambers of the General Assembly on Wednesday, making Virginia the 38th and final state needed to ratify the amendment enshrining gender equality in the Constitution.
Michigan ratified the ERA more than 40 years ago, on May 22, 1972.
Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William), who sponsored the ERA resolution as one of the first women to attend the previously all-male Virginia Military Institute, spoke about the uneven history of equality in Virginia, a state that fought against women’s suffrage, desegregation and interracial marriage. The ERA vote, she said, was “the vote of a lifetime.”
“It’s Virginia again on the battleground of equality,” Carroll Foy said. “I don’t know about you, but I think it’s right on time for Virginians to finally be on the right side of history.”
For now, the vote remains largely symbolic. The National Archives and Records Administration, which is responsible for certifying the ratification of constitutional amendments, said it will abide by a legal opinion issued by the U.S. Justice Department last week that said the ERA is no longer a valid amendment because a deadline imposed by Congress has expired, according to the Associated Press.
GOP attorneys general in three states have filed a lawsuit to stop the ERA. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) executive committee have condemned the lawsuit.
ERA advocates plan to challenge the deadline in court. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are pursuing legislation to remove the deadline.
The uncertainty did not dampen celebration at the Capitol.
Joined on the floor by one of her two daughters, Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach), said she’s grateful to have a husband who “recognizes equal duties” at home in a society that still expects women to always be the ones missing work to take care of sick kids.
“It is time to change our standard of equal to truly mean equal, regardless of sex,” said Convirs-Fowler, who has a third daughter on the way.
Del. Danica Roem (D-Prince William), Virginia’s first openly transgender legislator, talked about how much the state has changed since 2006, when the General Assembly and voters approved a ban on same-sex marriage.
“Today, rather than single out someone, rather than leave people behind, we are making a statement of affirmation about what we are for. Not who we are against,” Roem said.
Republican lawmakers in the House unsuccessfully attempted to delay Wednesday’s vote, crying foul over late additions to the resolution’s text, including a clause relaying poll results showing more than 80 percent of Virginians support the ERA. Their efforts to have the resolution sent back to committee failed.
Del. John McGuire (R-Henrico), who is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Henrico), spoke in opposition to the ERA, noting that women have risen to posts at the height of political power without the ERA in place.
“I gotta tell you, madam speaker, I’m very proud of you,” McGuire told newly elected Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), the first woman to hold the job. “You didn’t need the ERA to become the speaker.”
But ultimately the measure passed with bipartisan support, with four Republicans in the House casting votes in support and seven Republicans supporting the measure in the Senate.
“Despite the fact that it’s past the ratification deadline and this vote may be purely symbolic, I still will support it,” said Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach).
This story first appeared in the Advance‘s sister outlet, the Virginia Mercury. Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed reporting.