Two years. It can seem like such a great amount of time, but, in the context, it is just a drop in the bucket on how long we have actually been waiting.
It was roughly two years ago this week that I published a column in the Powhatan Today in support of Virginia voting to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Unfortunately, it failed to happen. Then it failed to happen again in 2019 in Virginia.
But that changed on Jan. 15, 2020, when both chambers of the General Assembly passing the women’s rights measure. This makes Virginia the 38th state to pass the resolution to add to the U.S. Constitution the simple phrase, “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 Senate passed the resolution in a 28-12 vote, and the House of Delegates approved it in a 58-42 vote.
As I read the stories coming out of Richmond on Jan. 15 about this historic moment, all I could do was smile. Because even though I know the fight isn’t over, this is a huge milestone and it should be savored.
Like I said, I know it’s not a done deal. There is still the huge looming issue of whether the ratification comes decades too late. One of the arguments used to oppose the ratification was that it was done well beyond the extended deadline of 1982. In all, 35 states had ratified the amendment by that point. Nevada took the step in 2017 and Illinois followed in 2018.
To be fair, it could be a valid legal argument. The opinion issued on Jan. 8 by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel saying the deadline has expired and the issue is moot was a real blow for supporters, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be challenged.
But let’s say for a minute that this effort does fail – that after all legal means are exhausted, it stands that the ratification passed by Congress on March 22, 1972, and sent to the states to ratify fails. What then?
We start again. We start again and work until all 38 of those states – and maybe more once the deadline issue is removed – vote to ratify it again.
I believe in the U.S. Constitution. It was a good foundation document to start this nation. I also believe in the Bill of Rights, which have continued to shape this nation as it grew and learned to better embrace the phrase “We the People.” Because if the original document had truly fully embraced that idea, we wouldn’t have needed the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery. We wouldn’t have needed the 15th Amendment in 1870, giving citizens the right to vote regardless of their race, only to need to come back 50 years later to pass the Women’s Suffrage Rights Article giving women the right to vote.
Until the ERA is passed, women do not have the same federal protection of rights as men represented in this nation’s most important document. Speaking as one American woman, I would like to see that changed.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.