Equal Rights Amendment Passage Is Top 2019 Priority of Virginia Democrats

Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment hold a sign as they are introduced in the gallery of the Virginia House of Delegates during the House session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Carol Fontein, who serves as the precinct operations chair of the Arlington, Va., Democrats, would be among the first to admit that she and other women’s-rights advocates had “been there, but didn’t quite get it done” when it comes to the Equal Rights Amendment.


However, this year, Arlington Democratic chair Jill Caiazzo told the Sun-Gazette Newspapers she and other Virginia Democrats have put state legislative focus on one of the issues that divided America in the 1970s — passage of the ERA — at the top of their 2019 agenda.

“There’s tremendous support for this in Virginia – we are going to keep up that steady drumbeat,” Caiazzo said as Virginia’s Democratic rank-and-file starting charting strategy for next year. “We’re going to be out there in the community on issues that matter so that we can get the policies we want in Virginia and the nation.”

Eleanor Smeal is another feminist warrior who feels the call back to the front to fight for the Equal Rights Amendment.

“I think one can see one major trend,” said Smeal, president and co-founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “A drum is beating for the ERA, and its time is coming.”

The deadline for approval of the ERA passed in 1982, though ERA bills resurfaced in the House and Senate during the 115th Congress.

Thirty-seven states have ratified the ERA. Only one more would put the amendment over the constitutional top. Virginia could be that state – almost. Five states rescinded their votes to approve the ERA. The legislatures of Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Dakota and Tennessee all took back their ratifications between 1973 and 1979. Also, the last two states to ratify the ERA — Nevada and Illinois — didn’t do so until 2017 and 2018, respectively, well past the 1982 deadline.


So, even if Virginia’s lawmakers say “yes” the final decision could rest with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Anne Schlafly Cori, chairwoman of the Eagle Forum, hopes it doesn’t come to that. Cori doesn’t like the ERA in 2019 any more than her mother, the late Phyllis Schlafly, did in 1972.

The Washington Post reported in Schlafly’s 2016 obituary that she was “credited for almost single-handedly stopping the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972.”

The ERA would guarantee that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” Schlafly argued the amendment was anti-family, anti-American and the equality it promised would be a step down for most women.

Flashing forward to 2018, Cori told the Washington Post the amendment could be used to eliminate the separation of the sexes in school athletic programs and prisons.

“The passage of time has not made the ERA any better,” said Cori. “It would introduce dangerous changes to our society that people should be aware of.”

Cori also said she and the Eagle Forum would lobby Virginia legislators to vote against the ERA as soon as lawmakers return to work in January.

Cori will need to talk to some GOP Virginia lawmakers, too. Republican Del. Roxann Robinson and GOP Sens. Richard Stuart and Jill Holtzman voted in favor of the ERA this fall. Robinson was the lead sponsor of an ERA-ratification bill.

Republican Sen. Glen Sturtevant Jr. needs to be on Cori’s lobbying list, too. He’s going to be sponsoring ERA ratification in the Senate.


Still, that doesn’t mean the ERA has bipartisan support in the Virginia Legislature. Stuart told the Post there are some Republicans who still believe the Equal Rights Amendment is “a pathway to a bunch of unintended consequences. Nobody’s jumping up and down embracing it.”

But passage of the ERA, as momentous as that might seem, isn’t the Democrats’ primary motivation. Even if they lose the ERA battle again, Caiazzo said it is a fight worth waging because they can use the ERA debate against state Sen. Dick Black and Rep. Tim Hugo, Republicans who, the Sun-Gazette said, could be vulnerable in 2019.

So the ERA isn’t necessarily the ultimate prize but part of the Democrats’ 2019 strategy for state party domination.

Jessica Post, the executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in Virginia, said the DLCC is ready to spend $1 million, “one of the largest early investments in DLCC history,” to wrest legislative control from the GOP.

“Only four seats stand between Virginia Democrats,” Post added, “and a trifecta of Democratic power.”


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