RICHMOND, Va. -- Supporters and opponents of a variety of causes rallied outside the State Capitol on Wednesday as the 2020 General Assembly got under way.
Among the issues and bills drawing attention is the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The ERA would amend the U.S. Constitution to enshrine protections regardless of sex under the Constitution, stating “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
The amendment was passed by federal lawmakers in 1972, but needs three-quarter of states, or 38 in total, to ratify the amendment in order for it to become enshrined in the Constitution. Supporters of the amendment have been lobbying for Virginia to become the 38th state.
Last year, it passed in the Senate, but failed to get voted on by the House.
Heading into this year’s General Assembly, with Democrats controlling both chambers and the Governor’s mansion, supporters of the ERA feel more confident it would pass.
“I believe this year is different. We have the majority,” said Amy Laufer, who was the Democratic nominee for 17th Senate district in last year’s election. “I have a daughter that’s 15 and I’m out here fighting for her, so when she gets a job she will get paid the same as her male counterpart.”
However, opponents speaking at a news conference said ratifying the amendment would do more harm than good.
“If lawfully ratified, the ERA erases many of the gains women have made in employment, education, and even sports. Furthermore, it could eliminate, it could lead to the elimination of the limits on abortion ,” said The Family Foundation of Virginia President Victoria Cobb. “I’m a third generation opponent of the ERA and every generation the harm done by the amendment increases.”
They add that the time to pass the ERA has passed. When Congress initially passed the ERA, there was a deadline of seven years for 38 states to ratify and even with a three year extension, only 35 states had done so.
“Their efforts here in Virginia will be nothing more than political posturing. The time to ratify the ERA expired more than 40 years ago,” said Kristen Waggoner with Alliance Defending Freedom. “As it stands today, the ERA is legally dead.
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion in line with opponents.
"We conclude that Congress had the constitutional authority to impose a deadline on the ratification of the ERA and, because that deadline has expired, the ERA Resolution is no longer pending before the States," the OLC said in an opinion released Wednesday.
In response to the opinion, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued the following statement:
“It is wholly unsurprising that the Trump Administration has found yet another way to oppose women’s equality. The ERA should have been passed by Virginia and other states a long time ago. It should have been unanimous. Women in America deserve to have equality guaranteed in the Constitution. The fact that Republican attorneys general are suing to block the ERA, and that they now have the support of the Trump Administration, is absolutely repugnant,” wrote Herring. “When Virginia becomes the 38th state to ratify the ERA I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that the will of Virginians is carried out and the ERA is added to our Constitution, as it should be.”
Another issue that drew people the State Capitol on Wednesday was about who should have control over Confederate and war monuments in the Commonwealth.
Virginia state law allows local governments to erect war monuments, but prohibits the local governments from taking them down or modifying them. The law also prohibits local governments from moving the monuments or adding placards explaining why they were erected.
The argument over this issue drew national attention in 2017 after the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
In Richmond, the home of several Confederate statues along Monument Avenue, the city council voted this week asking for state lawmakers to pass legislation giving localities control over the statues so that they could decide their fates.
On the steps of the State Capitol Wednesday, supporters of giving localities the power over the statues held a rally calling on lawmakers to do just that.
“We just want to see the power with the people and the local control,”said Chelsea Higgs Wise, a Richmond resident and one of the organizers of the group behind the rally, Monumental Justice Virginia. “I’d love to see the Monument Avenue statues that are the Confederate monuments taken down. We maintain Arthur Ashe and we build up a statue for the U.S. Colored Troops.”
But others, like state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-11), said are opposed to the idea of removing Confederate statues.
“I personally believe that we should not erase history, we need to learn from it,” said Chase. “Take into context what was going on during that time period. Obviously, the social norms that we have now, what would be considered acceptable back then are no longer acceptable now. We don’t want anyone to not feel welcome in their community. We want to walk in love toward all people and everybody feels that way, but there is a desire to keep the statues, because we feel that is a part of history.”