RICHMOND, Va - After a tense hearing in front a crowded room of activists, a Republican controlled panel dealt what could be the final blow to the chances of Virginia ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 2019. The House of Delegates Privileges and Elections subcommittee "passed by indefinitely" a block of ERA resolutions, which means they will likely not come up again for a vote this session.
Sen. Glen Sturtevant (R-Richmond) sponsored an ERA resolution that passed the Virginia Senate earlier this session, but since his bill was included in the block vote to pass the bills by, lawmakers said it is unlikely the resolutions will make it to the House floor this session.
ERA ratification by Virginia would make it the 38th state to do so, thus reaching the required three-quarters of the states to enshrine the amendment in the U.S. Constitution.
"Twenty-four, very simple words: equality of rights, under the law, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex," said. Del. Jennifer Carol Foy (D-Stafford), reading from the amendment to the subcommittee.
Opponents of ratification of the ERA have long argued the deadline for states to ratify it expired decades ago in 1982. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued a legal opinion last year disputing that claim. However, during Tuesday's hearing, multiple ERA opponents urged the panel to vote down the resolutions.
"The word sex no longer has a clear meaning in 2019, and it’s inclusion in our Constitution would undermine many protections that would be carefully crafted to protect women," said Kelly McGinn, a mother from Northern Virginia speaking against the ERA.
"Of course, the ERA is moot because it was not ratified by 38 states in the requisite Congressional time frame," said Kelly Holcomb, Attorney for the Family Foundation of Virginia.
The number of ERA supporters in the committee room far outnumbered the number of opponents. Proponents said arguments against the ERA are thin, and there is no reason equal protection for women should be a controversial issue in 2019.
"We all agree that the equal treatment of men and woman under the law is an American fundamental value, so I ask you to consider what other fundamental American value do we reject because of how some may interpret it?" Sen. Sturtevant said.
"We’re here to change the world for generations to come. I’ve had more opportunity than my mother, but I want more for my daughters," said Kati Hornung with VA Ratify ERA.
Just prior to the 4-2 party line vote to kill the ERA resolutions, subcommittee chair Del. Margaret Ransone (R-Westmoreland) addressed the crowd, but the moment took a tense turn when members of the crowd spoke out.
"For a second I want to talk to the young girls in the audience," Ransone said. Some members of the crowd could be heard groaning, when Ransone continued, "Well, that’s embarrassing you would say that to me because what I would say to them is you can do anything you want."
Ransone and ERA activist Eileen Davis briefly exchanged words. At one point during the encounter, Davis said, "Give us equal protection Constitutional footing!"
The ERA resolutions were voted down minutes later. Advocates said there is a chance to bring the resolutions back before the full House Privileges and Elections committee, but Democrats said it would likely meet a similar fate even if it does get to that point.
In a press conference following the votes, Del. Carol Foy said the ERA's defeat would add "fuel to fire" for activists heading in to November elections, when every seat in the General Assembly is on the ballot.