RICHMOND — Virginia has officially approved the Equal Rights Amendment.
Twelve days after the state Senate and House of Delegates initially backed the women’s rights measure, both bodies approved it again Monday. The passage makes Virginia the 38th state to do so, potentially making the measure part of the U.S. Constitution, although its future is unclear.
“Writing women into the constitution is long overdue,” said Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, who presided over the Senate on Monday as the president pro tempore of the body. Lucas is the first woman and first African American lawmaker to hold the title.
Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, the first woman to hold that title, presided over the House. She echoed a similar sentiment as Lucas during a news conference before the vote.
“Today we are walking down a more inclusive path, one where our daughters and their daughters after them will have equal protection under the law,” she said.
While the House and Senate versions of the ERA are identical, each body had to approve the other’s. Monday’s vote was a formality after the chambers backed the ERA on Jan. 15.
The Senate approved the resolution in a 27-12 vote, while the House voted 58-40 in favor.
The proposed federal amendment says: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
Between 1972, when Congress sent the ERA to states, and 1982, the deadline, 35 states ratified it, three short of what is needed to be part of the U.S. Constitution. Since then, two more states — Nevada and Illinois — have ratified it.
While Virginia’s ratification makes it the 38th state to do so, the U.S. Justice Department said earlier this month that it’s too late for ratification.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has said that he would challenge the federal Justice Department’s opinion.
“Though there are some out there who have already deemed our efforts to pass this historic amendment as futile, to the naysayers and to the opponents of women to call women’s equality, I say: do not underestimate Virginia and do not underestimate this movement,” he said Monday. “If you try to throw up roadblocks, this movement has shown, time and time again, they will go over, around or just straight through them.”
Congress is considering bills that call for the elimination of the ERA deadline.
Even with the uncertain future, Virginia legislators recognized Monday’s historic nature.
“As the first African American and first woman to hold the title as president pro tempore, I feel the significance and the gravity of this moment,” Lucas said. “I think of my ancestors who arrived on these shores 400 years ago. I think of the history of my people not being recognized as human beings, fighting for freedom, fighting to receive education, fighting to have a place in society and fighting for equality. “
She added: “Today is a day that we update that all men are created equal.”