RICHMOND — The Virginia General Assembly approved the Equal Rights Amendment Wednesday, accomplishing a promise that helped Democrats seize control of the legislature and noting a watershed moment in the nearly century-long effort to append protections for women to the U.S. Constitution.
The votes capped an emotional week in which Democrats — particularly female lawmakers who now maintain unprecedented positions of power in Richmond — celebrated history in the making.
Many legal hurdles still have to be removed before ERA, which outlaws discrimination based on sex, would become part of the U.S. Constitution. Critics maintain various deadlines for ratification have long ago passed. But supporters were triumphant that Virginia, after ages of failure, is poised to become the 38th state to ratify the amendment.
ERA opponents declared the vote is simply symbolic because it remains unclear whether the amendment can really be ratified so long after its initial approval.
First proposed in 1923, the ERA was reintroduced in every session of Congress until it passed in 1972. U.S. lawmakers established a deadline of March 22, 1979, for three-quarters of the states to ratify the amendment, a measure ERA supporters now state is unconstitutional because it was not incorporated in the amendment text.
As that deadline neared, Congress lengthened it to June 30, 1982. Because only 35 of the needed 38 state legislatures ratified the ERA by that time, the amendment was named a failure.
It is very possible that the equal rights of women to be protected from discrimination and have protection in the US Constitution may possibly come down to the judiciary system. No federal judge has yet ruled on the Equal Rights Amendment.