Virginia has officially approved the Equal Rights Amendment.
Twelve days after the state Senate and House of Delegates initially backed the women’s rights measure, both bodies approved it again Monday. The passage makes Virginia the 38th state to do so, potentially making the measure part of the U.S. Constitution, although its future is unclear.
“Writing women into the Constitution is long overdue,” said Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, who presided over the Senate on Monday as the president pro tempore of the body. Lucas is the first woman and first African American lawmaker to hold the title.
Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, the first woman to hold that title, presided over the House. She echoed a similar sentiment as Lucas.
“Finally, women have a place in our nation’s founding document,” she said in a statement after the vote.
While the House and Senate versions of the ERA are identical, each body had to approve the other’s. Monday’s vote was a formality after the chambers backed the ERA on Jan. 15.
The Senate approved the resolution in a 27-12 vote, while the House voted 58-40 in favor. ERA supporters, many wearing sashes touting equality, gathered in the galleries and cheered the votes.
The proposed federal amendment says: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
“These 24 words will be the 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution,” said Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, the patron of the House version of the resolution. “ERA now and equal rights for women forever.”
Filler-Corn said in a statement that House Clerk Suzette Denslow, also the first woman in her post, will send copies of the resolution to President Donald Trump, the heads of Congress and the national archivist.
“The Equal Rights Amendment will be enshrined in the Constitution of the United States in very short order,” she said.
The measure is likely to face a court battle.
Between 1972, when Congress sent the ERA to states, and 1982, the deadline, 35 states ratified it, three short of what is needed to be part of the U.S. Constitution. Since then, two more states — Nevada and Illinois — have ratified it. Five states have withdrawn their support, but it’s unclear if rescinding ratification is allowed.
While Virginia’s ratification makes it the 38th state, the U.S. Justice Department said earlier this month that it’s too late for ratification.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said he would challenge the federal Justice Department’s opinion.
“I expect the archivist to fulfill his responsibility under the law, but if he refuses to certify that the ERA has been added to the Constitution, I will take action to ensure the will of Virginians is carried out,” Herring said Monday. “Women have suffered as a result of discrimination and inequality in this country for centuries, and I will not stop until I have exhausted every option to ensure that they will never have to face those inequities again.”
Congress is considering bills that call for the elimination of the ERA deadline.
Even with the uncertain future, Virginia legislators recognized Monday’s historic nature.
“As the first African American and first woman to hold the title as president pro tempore, I feel the significance and the gravity of this moment,” Lucas said. “I think of my ancestors who arrived on these shores 400 years ago. I think of the history of my people not being recognized as human beings, fighting for freedom, fighting to receive education, fighting to have a place in society and fighting for equality.”
She added: “Today is a day that we update that all men are created equal.”