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OPINION: Is Virginia’s ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment DOA? UPDATED



Legislation to make Virginia the 38th state to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment failed to clear the GOP-controlled house subcommittee on Jan. 22, but a Washington Post story notes that the battle "is not quite over."

According to their story: "Supporters and foes of the ERA were turning their attention to the full committee, which could resurrect the legislation when it meets Friday. “We’re not out of moves,” said Eileen Davis, founder of Women Matter, one of many feminist organizations pushing for a vote [and the mother of Seventh District Democratic Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger]. “And if they continue to stonewall, it’s at their own peril.”

I write as a Quaker, as a mother, a grandmother, a Virginian and an American. Upon reading that the Virginia Senate passed a resolution recently for state to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment, I fully intended this to be a thank-you note to Alice Paul, the Quaker suffragette who was instrumental in getting women the right to vote in 1920 and who also co-wrote wrote a version of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923. 

Paul's story was told in the movie "Iron-Jawed Angels," filmed in Richmond in 2003 and released the following year. The movie depicts the struggles and the violence that Paul and others endured in the quest to get women the franchise. The title of the movie refers to the violent force-feedings the women repeatedly suffered because of the hunger strikes they mounted when they were arrested and imprisoned.

I wanted to thank her, and all the women, men and children of all faiths who joined the fight to give women the vote and all those who have fought since to extend the protections of the Equal Rights Amendment to all citizens of the United States. I also intended to thank the members of the Virginia General Assembly, the oldest continuous lawmaking body in the New World, established on July 30, 1619, for finally stepping up and striking a true bell for democracy. 

My senator, Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, spoke my mind when she said that it would "be poetic justice for Virginia, a state on the wrong side of slavery, Massive Resistance and other issues, to become the state that put the amendment over the top. We should be the 38th state to ratify the ERA and finally bring truth to the promise that we are all created equal," she said.

My delegate, Jeffrey M. Bourne, D-Richmond, has assured me repeatedly that he supports this legislation. "As a son, father, husband and a lawyer, I know this is the right thing to do."

The text of the Equal Rights Amendment is a model of simplicity and eloquence: 

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Silly me. When checking on the status of the legislation, I discovered that although Delegate Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, the chairman of the Special Elections and Privileges Committee, who last year defeated the ERA by simply refusing to put it on the docket to be heard, a procedural move that left supporters stupefied and angry when they figured out they had been had, has been dissembling when he tells the media that he "is not sure how he will handle the issue" this year.

Cole's plan to kill the ERA this year is two-fold and is as sure as a heat-seeking missile. First, he is sponsoring a resolution that offers alternative language for the ERA that Congress passed in 1972 and that the Virginia Senate recently passed. This allows him and other Republicans to claim (gosh, golly) they are not against the ERA, but against the unintended consequences of the legislation that 37 other states have ratified and which Congress passed in 1972.

His resolution is co-sponsored by three of the members of the Special Elections and Privileges subcommittee to which the Senate resolution has been referred. It has not yet been assigned to a subcommittee.

Barring divine intervention, the Senate resolution might never make it out of subcommittee or committee.

Cole's alternative language resolution claims that the ERA is basically dead anyway since it was not ratified within the time period required.

Never mind that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring addressed that issue in a formal opinion he issued at the end of the last General Assembly session, requested by Richard Black, R-Loudon County. 

Herring stated unequivocally that it did not and that the ERA was still very much alive.

Should Cole and his colleagues prevail again in killing the ERA, I ask all to remember Alice Paul's inspiring words: "When you put your hand to the plow, you can't put it down until you get to the end of the row. I never doubted that equal rights was the right direction. Most reforms, most problems are complicated. But to me, there is nothing complicated about ordinary equality."

Carol A.O. Wolf is a former reporter and editor at Style Weekly who served on the Richmond School Board from 2002 to 2008. She writes regularly about the Richmond Public Schools at saveourschools-getrealrichmond.blogspot.com.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.