The lone female delegate on the House subcommittee that voted Tuesday morning against ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment said changing the U.S. Constitution to protect women is unnecessary.
“I don’t need words on a piece of paper, God made us all equal,” said Del. Margaret Ransone, R- Kinsale.
Her remarks were met by boos, laughter and other comments from supporters of the amendment.
“You all have disrespected me year after year,” said Ransone, who chairs the subcommittee. She then singled out a long-time ERA advocate in the audience, Eileen Davis, the mother of U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger.
“Eileen, you sit back there and shake your head,” Ransone said. “Year after year, you have brought young people, young women to my office and told them they’re not worthy and they are worthy. If you set your mind to it, you can make it happen, just like the women who serve in this body with me.”
Davis responded from her seat. “They should be worthy under the law,” she said. “They should be in the Constitution.”
The outcome of Tuesday’s vote was not unexpected, and because subcommittees only make recommendations, supporters remain hopeful it could still make it the floor of the House of Delegates, where they believe it has enough support to pass. However, the rules of the House state that a committee chairman “need not consider” legislation that is not recommended by a subcommittee.
Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge, said voting on the ERA would be the most important vote of the delegates’ lifetimes, and not taking action was a “dereliction of duty.”
“The equality of 160 million women and children are dependent upon what we do or do not do here during this legislative session,” she said.
The ERA was passed by Congress 47 years ago to guarantee equal legal rights regardless of sex. Proponents have said courts don’t always make decisions with that in mind while opponents have concerns about unintended consequences of the amendment, like losing entitlement, alimony and child support payments for women and a proliferation of abortion procedures.
On Tuesday, opponents focused on the ratification process, arguing the deadline to approve the amendment has passed and it would create an unfair process to move forward. They also said accepting the amendment would lead to an avalanche of legal challenges.
Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, carried the Senate version of the ERA legislation that passed the chamber last week. He asked House members to consider the history of not just the ERA, but the country.
“Put yourselves in the shoes of the legislators who considered and ratified the Bill of Rights 200 years ago,” he said. “In their time, (those rights) were all novel and new and extraordinarily expansive for their time. But those were and are fundamental American values worthy of protection from governmental interference.
And the same analysis, I submit to you, should apply here.”