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Virginia Democrats Call on Senate to Finally Certify Equal Rights Amendment

“The ERA would finally guarantee full and equal protections to women in the U.S. Constitution,” the lawmakers said.

Sen. Tim Kaine speaks while Rep. Abigail Spanberger listens on as volunteers prepare to go door to door on November 5, 2022, in Woodbridge, Virginia.

A group of Democratic lawmakers from Virginia is urging the Senate to certify the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), saying that the deadline set decades ago is “arbitrary” and not legally binding.

The ERA would officially state that provisions in the U.S. Constitution that use male-centric language apply to everyone equally, regardless of sex or gender.

The official text of the amendment reads, in part, that:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Several Supreme Court rulings have established that people cannot be discriminated against, in federal and state law, on account of sex. But as Dobbs v. Women’s Health — the ruling earlier this year that overturned nearly 50 years of abortion rights precedent — shows, such rulings are only effective as long as the Court decides to uphold them. A constitutional amendment would ensure that a future ruling by a far right Court couldn’t undo protections that limit discrimination based on sex.

For a constitutional amendment to be certified, three-quarters of U.S. states must vote in its favor. Virginia’s decision to ratify the ERA, which took place in January 2020, passed that threshold.

At issue, however, is a time limit that accompanied the ERA when it was first introduced in 1972. At the time, the resolution for the ERA required that the ratification process be completed within seven years. After that time expired, however, Congress voted for a three-year extension.

Even though that extension also expired, states continued to pass the ERA up until 2020, when enough states had ratified the measure for it to potentially become an official amendment. Virginia was the last state to ratify the amendment.

Several other amendments have taken years to achieve the constitutional threshold necessary to be certified — one amendment, ratified in 1992, was introduced by Congress in 1789, alongside the first ten amendments that are commonly referred to as the Bill of Rights.

While several lawmakers in Congress — mostly Democrats — support holding a Senate vote to certify the ERA, the message from the Virginia delegation is particularly noteworthy, since that state was the 38th to ratify the amendment.

The House has already voted to certify the ERA by excusing the time limit that was imposed, but the Senate has yet to do so. Democratic members of Virginia’s congressional delegation wrote in their letter to the Senate last week that a vote in that chamber should take place before the end of the current session.

The letter was signed by senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and representatives Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer, Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger and Jennifer Wexton.

“The ERA would finally guarantee full and equal protections to women in the U.S. Constitution,” the lawmakers noted, adding that “women have waited too long for our nation to fulfill its promise of equality.”

“We believe that there should be no time limit on equality,” the lawmakers said. “The ERA time limit was contained in a joint resolution’s proposing clause, not in the actual text of the amendment, and Congress has previously voted to extend the time for ERA ratification.”

They concluded:

The required 38 states have now ratified the ERA. The House has passed legislation eliminating the time limit for ratification. Now it is up to the Senate to remove any obstacles to certifying the ERA as the 28th amendment. More than a century after women fought for and earned the right to vote, our progress as a nation is incomplete unless all women are able to achieve freedom and equality.

There is overwhelming bipartisan support for enshrining the ERA into the text of the constitution. Polling from Data for Progress over the summer found that 85 percent of voters believe Congress should certify the ERA — including 93 percent of Democrats and 79 percent of Republicans.