Coming off of recent victories in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, Democrats continued their blue wave in Virginia on Tuesday, Nov. 5 as they took control of both the state’s House and Senate. Old Dominion has been a Republican stronghold since 1993, making Tuesday’s election results all the more surprising. While only time will tell what Virginia’s Democratic takeover will mean for the 2020 presidential election, the results immediately led to a renewed conversation about the state’s role in potentially ratifying a piece of legislation that would guarantee equal rights to all citizens regardless of sex: The Equal Rights Amendment.
Here’s what to know about how the election results in Virginia could impact the future of the Equal Rights Amendment, otherwise known as the ERA.
Since the passage of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees all citizens “equal protection of the laws,” there have been no shortage of federal laws that attempt to bridge the equality gap between men and women. However, there is still no gender-specific equality amendment to the Constitution, which is why the ERA — 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” — was passed by the Senate back in 1972 to initially strong bipartisan support.
According to Slate, supporters have argued that ratifying the amendment would guarantee equal pay, protect women who are pregnant or mothers, and force companies and law enforcement to look into incidents of gender-based violence and harassment.
The ERA’s support on the right side of the political spectrum declined when certain lawmakers started linking expanded abortion rights and gay marriage to its passage.
While the amendment passed in Congress, it hit some speed bumps when it came time for 38 states to ratify it for it to officially become part of the Constitution. While 35 states did so relatively quickly, the momentum ended after Indiana became the last state to ratify it in 1977 amidst far-right activist Phyllis Schlafly’s anti-LGBT and abortion rhetoric. The conservative claimed that not only would ratifying the amendment displace traditional family values where men were breadwinners and women were homemakers, but women would also have to sign up for the draft and no longer have their own bathrooms in the name of equality. She also claimed that doing so could expand abortion rights and lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The ERA gained momentum once again in 2017 when Nevada ratified it that year, followed by Illinois in 2018, bringing the number up to 37.
Lawmakers breathed fresh air into the amendment in recent years after a few states belatedly ratified it.
A number of Democratic Congresswomen showed their solidarity for the amendment by sporting pins that read “ERA Yes” during the 2019 State of the Union address. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsberg also previously said that it was the amendment she’d most like to see passed while speaking at the National Press Club in 2014.
“I think we have achieved that through legislation, but legislation can be repealed, it can be altered,” Ginsburg explained about why it was essential to amend the Constitution instead of relying on other legislature. “So I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion — that women and men are persons of equal stature — I’d like them to see that is a basic principle of our society.”
When the ERA was brought before the House of Delegates in Virginia in February 2019, however, the Republican-controlled body voted against it.
In the aftermath of their Virginia victory, Democratic leaders revealed that passing the ERA is one of their main goals.
Shortly after their blue sweep in Virginia on Tuesday, Senate Democratic leader Dick Saslaw made it clear that the amendment was high on the party’s list of priorities.
“One thing we are going to need to do right away is pass the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia,” he told supporters, as reported by CNN. “It’s high time we include the women of this country in the Constitution of the United States.”
Even with the left-controlled government bodies in Virginia, it’s likely that passing of the ERA won’t come without a few bumps in the road, as the deadline for states to ratify the amendment was in 1982. However, there is already proposed legislation to extend this deadline on the table, meaning that a potential amended constitution could be just around the corner.