The Equal Rights Amendment has friends in Williamsburg. Hundreds of people took to Duke of Gloucester Street in support of the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution on Saturday.
Marchers gathered in front of the Capitol in Colonial Williamsburg as Democratic politicians spoke in support of the amendment to the U.S. Constitution, urging people to contact their members in the House of Delegates, which hasn’t yet weighed in on the amendment, to encourage them to get it over the finish line and added to the Constitution.
“We’re talking about equality, equality for men and for women. And for too many years, this has not be codified in our Constitution,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, who represents the 2nd Congressional District. “Continue to urge your delegates to push this to the floor and vote in support of the Equal Rights Amendment.”
The Virginia Senate voted 26-14 to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Sens. Thomas Norment (R-James City) and Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg) voted to approve the amendment, which now goes to the House of Delegates.
“I know for a fact we have the votes on the floor of the House of Delegates, if only we can get it out of committee. So over the next two and three weeks, we need your work,” said Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News).
The Equal Rights Amendment would guarantee the same legal rights for men and women, and would end legal distinction between the sexes in regard to divorce, property and employment.
Local progressive groups Williamsburg JCC Indivisible and Indivisible 757 jointly held the march, which they branded as part of the Women’s March, a national annual march in support of feminism and other issues in its third year.
The amendment was first introduced in 1923. There was a push in the late 1970s for states to ratify the amendment, but the effort fell short of the approvals needed, according equalrightsamendment.org.
Should the General Assembly ratify the amendment this year, Virginia would be the 38th state to ratify the amendment, which could add the amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
There’s some debate regarding exactly how, if at all, the amendment would actually go into effect if ratified, given its passed deadline. Congress set a deadline for the states to ratify the amendment in 1978, and then extended it to 1982.
Given Congress’s “power and significant control over the amendment process,” Congress has the ability to extend the deadline again. Therefore, the General Assembly has the power to pass a ratifying resolution, Attorney General Mark Herring said in a formal opinion hearing in May.
Several speakers at the march noted that the 27th Amendment was submitted by the nation’s first Congress for the states’ consideration in 1789, only to sit on the shelf more than 200 years until it was ratified and added to the Constitution in 1992.
In addition to the age on the Equal Rights Amendment, opponents have suggested it’s unnecessary.
“For those who were in opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment, one of the things they always said was ‘we don’t need this amendment because women already have equal rights in other places’,” said Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton). “And what I said was, as an African-American woman, one could easily say we already have equal rights for Africans Americans. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. But that didn’t free slaves. What freed slaves was the 13th Amendment.”
For march attendee Chance Lee of Mechanicsville, the push to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment represents the possibility of progress amid government dysfunction.
“There’s a lot happening politically, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere,” Lee said. “It means some type of progress happens.”
Williamsburg resident Mary Kay Dranzo, clutching a demonstration sign, said the amendment seemed like a no-brainer, and noted the historical significance of Virginia being the state to clinch the ratification.
“It’s kind of ridiculous this isn’t even law yet. I mean, it is 2019. The fact that this would be the 38th state and last state required for ratification is exciting,” Dranzo said.
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, email@example.com, @jajacobs_