Virginia Senate approves ERA, but it might not even get a hearing in the House

Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment cheer House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, as she enters the Capitol on the first day of the 2019 General Assembly session. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Senate approved the Equal Rights Amendment on Tuesday afternoon, with the chamber’s 19 Democrats and seven Republicans voting in favor.

The Senate has passed the amendment before. The bigger lift for advocates who want to see Virginia become the 38th and final state to ratify the amendment will be in the House, where it’s still not clear whether it will get a committee hearing, let alone make it to the House floor.

Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, chairs the House’s Privileges and Elections Committee, where the ERA has been referred.

Last year, he didn’t bring the resolution up for a vote. After the Senate’s vote Tuesday, he said he’s not sure he’ll bring it up for a vote this year, either, calling the amendment defunct, a common point of opposition.

“We’ll see what happens when the Senate resolution comes over,” he says.

In addition to procedural arguments against it, opponents argue it would expand abortion access and have warned it would force women into the military and require schools to house men and women in the same dormitory.

“Women, are you going to fall  for this?” said Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, in a speech before the vote. “The truth is that women have already come along way without the ERA.”

Supporters of the ERA called concerns about unintended consequences overblown and have argued that even if it is defunct, Virginia is no stranger to symbolic votes.

“So many times Virginia has been on the wrong side of history,” said Sen. Jenn McClellan, D-Richmond. “As the capitol of the Confederacy, as the birthplace of one of the largest slave markets in the country. As the leader of massive resistance. Late to ratify the 14th amendment, late to ratify the 19th amendment.

“Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if this year as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of women, Africans coming to Virginia and the first representative democracy in the western hemisphere? We should be the 38th state to ratify the ERA and finally bring truth to the promise that we are all created equal.”