“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex.” Those few and powerful words are from the Equal Rights Amendment, proposed by Congress in 1972, which seeks to make all people, regardless of gender, equal under the law.
Thirty-seven states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Many hope Virginia will be the 38th to join the movement, which could officially ratify the amendment and meet the two-thirds threshold outlined in the Constitution. (Yes, there are issues as to whether ratification now is too late, but that is a legal issue beyond this article.) I urge you to join many community leaders in this bipartisan effort to have Virginia ratify the ERA in 2019.
The road to gender equality in America has been a long and winding route. Women were not even allowed to cast a ballot until 1923, when the 19th Amendment was ratified. Bright, capable women were turned away from fields of study and careers that were deemed masculine by our society. If a woman wanted to be anything other than a nurse or teacher, she often had to have connections, money, and a lot of luck. The Constitution already protects people in the United States from being discriminated against by the government based on their race, religion, and national origin through the 14th Amendment. The ERA would add gender to those protected categories.
Some opposed to the ERA have raised a parade of horribles, asserting that passage would mean the end of unisex bathrooms, expanding the draft to women, and other things. I see no reason to assume the ratification of ERA would result in such outcomes. Nor would it affect private employment or interactions, as Constitutional rights only restrict the government, not private citizens. I also do not believe the ERA will, by itself, revolutionize the role of women in society. That is a more complex process that has been ongoing for some time, and will certainly continue. But what the ERA would do is add to our great Constitution a clear, simple, unambiguous statement that men and women are equal under the law. It is that simple, yet that fundamental.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has unanimously endorsed a resolution calling on the General Assembly to ratify the ERA in 2019. Many other jurisdictions have done the same. A bipartisan team of legislators in Richmond has promised to file such a resolution.
Please join me in encouraging the entire General Assembly to ratify the ERA and bring full equality for women into our federal Constitution.