In the event that Democrat Shelly Simonds prevails in her dead-heat contest against incumbent Republican David Yancey for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, that body will be split 50-50, and the Democrats and Republicans will be forced into a power-sharing arrangement. This is good news and a historic opportunity for supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
Congress passed the ERA as the prospective 27th Amendment in 1972 and sent it out for ratification by the states that same year. However, in what has to be the least dead-heat finish of any political contest in history, the 1789 “Madison Amendment” (prohibiting any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for Representatives) overtook the ERA in 1992 to become the 27th Amendment when Michigan ratified it on May 7 of that year — a ratification process of 203 years.
The ERA consists of three simple sentences:
- “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”;
- “The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article”;
- And “this amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”
The ERA became embroiled in the now antiquated gender politics of the 1970s with opposition being led by Phyllis Schlafly, a woman who took pride in thanking her husband for giving her permission to attend rallies outside the home. Despite the opposition, initial progress on ratification was swift. Twenty-two states, including Maryland, ratified the amendment in 1972. The pace has been glacial in recent years. On March 22, 2017, 45 years to the day after Congress passed it, Nevada became the 36th state to ratify the ERA. This means that if two more states ratify the ERA, it will become the 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Virginia is one of the states that has not ratified the ERA, and it is fully the fault of its House of Delegates. The Virginia Senate has repeatedly ratified the amendment, passing Senate Joint Resolution 537 in 2011, SJ 130 in 2012, SJ 78 in 2014, SJ 216 in 2015, and SJ 1 in 2016. This Senate action has been repeatedly thwarted by the Virginia House of Delegates, most recently when the Republican-controlled House of Delegates Privileges and Elections Committee shelved the 2016 Senate bill without action.
Ratification of what should be a self-evident postulate of democratic governance should be the first priority of the Virginia House of Delegates when it convenes on Jan. 10. If Ms. Simonds wins her seat Thursday in a random name drawing set to break the tie with Mr. Yancey, the Virginia Democrats should insist upon an immediate vote on the ERA as a precondition to all other power sharing. If the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate ratify the ERA, then only one more state is needed for the ERA to become part of the Constitution — a task that will be up to Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina or Utah.
The allegations against Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly and Matt Lauer as long-time and unchecked sexual predators have triggered a cultural revolution. But as powerful as the “#metoo” phenomenon might be on social media, and however acute the exposure of abusive sexual power dynamics, it will provide little comfort for women in subsequent decades who might face age-old bias by men. As the delegates who met in Philadelphia in 1776 understood, a revolution needs a permanent writing in order to be enshrined in law. In this revolution, stepping to the microphone to dogmatically condemn the unequal treatment of women is an insult. We need law. We need the ERA. It is your turn Virginia: Bring us closer to the finish line on the ERA.