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Voting along party lines, House subcommittee rejects ERA

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Print this page By Georgia Geen, Capital News Service
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Advocates for the ERA, who made up a majority of the audience, enter the committee hearing.
Photo by Georgia Geen

A House of Delegates subcommittee killed four bills to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment on a 4-2 party-line vote Tuesday amid verbal conflicts between the chairwoman and members of the audience.

The decision to “pass by indefinitely” HJ 577, HJ 579, HJ 583 and SJ 284 marks the end for efforts to pass legislation ratifying the ERA — a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution preventing sex discrimination — unless it is brought up in the full House Privileges and Elections Committee Friday.

“I think that with this type of attention that it’s getting, I think there’s an expectation that it will be brought to full committee on Friday,” said Del. Mark Sickles of Fairfax, one of two Democrats on the subcommittee.

The subcommittee’s chairwoman — Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland — was vocal about her opposition to the ERA, sparking tensions with the crowd. Before the vote, Ransone asked those in support of the ERA to stand, and most people in the audience rose.

“This resolution has come after this committee year after year, meaning we are very aware of this resolution and it’s a thoroughly understood issue,” Ransone said. “I don’t need words on a piece of paper — God made us all equal.”

In her remarks, Ransone referenced Eileen Davis, co-founder of the pro-ERA group Women Matter and mother of U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, by name.

ERA supporters “have disrespected me year after year,” Ransone said. “And, Eileen, you have brought young people and young women to my office and told them that they’re not worthy. They are worthy.”

Ransone said that she is respected by the male members of the Republican Caucus and that women “deserve every opportunity in life that a man does.”

“Women deserve to be in the Constitution,” Davis said from the audience in response.

Ransone and fellow Republican Dels. Hyland “Buddy” Fowler Jr. of Hanover, Riley Ingram of Hopewell and John McGuire of Henrico voted to kill each of the resolutions to ratify the ERA. Sickles and Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg of Henrico voted to keep the resolutions alive.

The proposed 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.”

The ERA was first introduced by suffragette Alice Paul in 1923 but made little momentum until the 1970s when 35 states ratified it, three short of the 38 needed to make an amendment part of the U.S. Constitution. Efforts subsided after the ratification deadline imposed by Congress in 1982. However, the Constitution does not specifically give Congress the right to put a deadline on amendment ratification.

A campaign led by conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly is credited with halting the movement and resulting in five states rescinding their ratifications, a right not granted by the Constitution.

“Alice Paul said, 100 years ago, ‘Unless women are prepared to fight politically, they should be prepared to be ignored politically,’” Davis said. “And we’re not prepared [to be ignored] anymore; time is up on that.”

Supporters of ratifying the ERA had high hopes after the Senate passed SJ 284 in a 26-14 vote last week. Seven Republican senators joined the 19 Democratic members in voting to ratify the ERA.

But it was a different story when the issue moved to the House.

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Stafford, who sponsored HJ 579, called the subcommittee vote “one of the most important … that we will take in our lifetime.”

“The same arguments that are being made are the arguments that were made for segregation,” Carroll Foy said. “We want to be on the right side of this issue.”




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