It was nearly a century in the making.
On Wednesday, the Virginia House and Senate became the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which 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” and would guarantee equality to men and women in matters of divorce, property, employment and other matters.
Cheers went up in the packed galleries of the Virginia State Capitol as the resolution passed in the House 59-41 and in the Senate 28-12.
First introduced in 1923 to Congress by Alice Paul, an American suffragist, and Crystal Eastman, a lawyer and feminist, the movement gained support for years and was passed by Congress in 1972. To be added it to the Constitution, lawmakers set a deadline of March 22, 1979, for three-quarters of the states to ratify the amendment. Congress eventually extended the deadline to 1982. By that time, only 35 states had ratified the ERA, so it was declared a failure.
Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly is considered to have almost single-handedly stopped the wide passage of the ERA, declaring it anti-family and anti-American. Equality, she said, would be a step down for most women, who she said are “extremely well-treated” by society and laws.
In recent years, the ERA regained momentum, sparked by the #MeToo movement and a renewed urgency to protect reproductive rights. In 2017, Nevada and Illinois ratified the ERA, which made Virginia the final state necessary to reach the needed 38.
Given that Congress set a deadline for ratification of 1982, the U.S. Justice Department last week issued a finding that the amendment had expired and could no longer be ratified. In addition, since first passing it, five states rescinded their vote on ERA: Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota. Also at stake is whether the ratification can be withdrawn — as it was in those five states — after the fact.
A lawsuit is pending to prevent David Ferriero — the archivist of the United States — from certifying the ratification of the amendment. The lawsuit contends that the five states that rescinded should not be included the 38 states needed.
Julie Suk, dean for master’s programs at the City University of New York, told CBS that Congress has the power to extend and remove deadlines.
If the resolution passes, it would recognize “over 100 years of work by women lawmakers … and solidify this nation’s commitment to sex equality as a foundational principle,” she said.