By Kal Weinstein
Capital News Service
RICHMOND -- Despite a 24-hour vigil by advocates of the Equal Rights Amendment, House Republicans refused to allow a vote on ratifying the measure Thursday — officially killing the ERA for the year.
The defeat comes to the dismay of many who thought Virginia would be the 38th state to ratify the amendment, potentially adding it to the U.S. Constitution. Experts disagree whether the ERA can be ratified because the deadline to do so has passed.
More than two dozen advocates spent Wednesday night enduring freezing temperatures outside the Capitol building for an “equality vigil” organized by VAratifyERA. Throughout the event, which was live-streamed, supporters read letters from ERA allies and encouraged those watching from home to call their delegates.
Many Democratic leaders attended the vigil, including U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who represents the state’s 7th Congressional District; Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler of Virginia Beach; and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, showed up with pizza for participants.
“My mother, who does support the ERA, would be very disappointed if I didn’t bring you all food!” Roem said.
With bipartisan support, the Virginia Senate passed a resolution in January to ratify the ERA. However, the proposal died in the House Committee on Privileges and Elections -- and so it could not be considered by the full House of Delegates.
On Thursday, House Democrats attempted to introduce a rules change that would have allowed a simple majority vote to bring the ERA to the floor. The rules change failed on a 50-50 vote along party lines. One Republican -- Del. David Yancey of Virginia Beach -- joined the 49 Democrats in voting for the rules change; all other Republicans voted against it.
Afterward, Del. Hala Ayala, D-Prince William, apologized to constituents.
“As elected officials, we have a moral obligation to listen to our constituents and let their voices be heard,” she said. “I am deeply sorry that did not happen.”
The ERA 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.”
Supporters say the amendment would be a move toward equal rights for women and men. But others argue there could be unintended consequences, such as co-ed prisons or women being drafted into the military -- claims that ERA supporters dispute.
With the ERA now effectively dead for the year, Democrats are turning their attention to the fall, when all 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly are up for election. The House Democratic Caucus released a statement announcing the defeat but also urging supporters to be optimistic.
“2019 is an election year here in Virginia,” the statement said. “This time next year, when the Democrats do have the majority, we will ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.”