Equal Rights Amendment

Op-Ed Submitted to the Washington Post on January 17, 2019:

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

This is the language I would like to see added to our United States Constitution. I am not alone. 90% of Americans agree that the Constitution should guarantee equal rights regardless of sex. Over 70% of Americans believe it already does. In order to get it there, Virginia has to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) so that women across the country can benefit. That means we must convince Virginia Republicans to get on board or we must vote them out.

Every American should be looking to Virginia to get this done. As the 38th state needed to ratify, Virginia could be the state that enshrines Equal Rights regardless of sex into the United States Constitution. This is so important because sex discrimination is not currently specifically prohibited by the Constitution, unlike discrimination based on race, religion, or country of origin. As a result, Courts are not able to protect against sex discrimination to the same extent and this negatively impacts men and women. The ERA creates a permanent, uniform, and national standard for eliminating sex discrimination by the government at all levels.  

Opponents argue that the ERA is no longer necessary because women are protected by the 5th and 14th Amendments and numerous other federal and state laws and they’re much better off now than they were before. First, conservative stalwart Justice Scalia recognized the fact that the Constitution does not protect against sex discrimination. Second, federal and state laws are not constitutional protections; they can be changed at the whim of the majority, whereas it is much more difficult to change the Constitution. 

Opponents also argue that Congress set a deadline for ratification and because that deadline has expired, ratification by Virginia is either not possible or would not matter. Constitutional scholars disagree on this point  and legislators were elected to create law that benefits their communities, so why don’t we just pass it and let the courts decide afterwards? Equality for all is worth the effort!

Virginia legislators have tried to pass the ERA since 2011. Delegate Mark Cole (R), Chair of the Privileges and Elections Committee, has killed eleven ERA resolutions in eight years. ERA resolutions have cleared the Virginia Senate five times with bipartisan support only to be killed in the House by Mark Cole. The ERA has never been voted on in the Virginia House because Cole will not move it out of his Committee. Very recently, Cole restated his opposition to the ERA: the expired deadline does not allow him to even consider the bill. On his social media, he shared ousted former delegate Bob Marshall’s opinion letter in opposition of the ERA, aligning himself with the views of a very unpopular misogynist. 

By opposing the ERA, Cole ignores sound legal opinions and the will of his constituents. The Virginia Attorney General issued a 2018 Opinion that Cole may legally consider the resolution. Cole’s constituents want the ERA voted on and passed – 81% of Virginians and the majority of the United States population support a constitutional amendment that precludes discrimination based on sex.

Let this sink in: ONE man has successfully blocked constitutional equality for 166 million American women and girls for years!

We have the support in the General Assembly. The Senate resolution passed 26-14 on January 15, 2019. However, when that resolution made its way to the House, it was assigned, along with three other ERA resolutions, to a kill committee where it died on party lines. All eyes are on Cole to revive the ERA before the end of session in February.

I write to all Americans, now to urge you to put pressure on Cole, the ERA-Killer, and to fund campaigns to vote him and other obstructionist Republicans out of office. You can call or email his office to share your opinion:  (804) 698-1088, delmcole@house.virgina.gov.

Jessica Foster