The ERA has been in limbo since the 70s, but it looks like it may pass soon.
Randolph College’s Dr. Danielle Currier cannot remember a time when she was not deeply interested in civil rights and equality. She says this interest goes all the way back to her childhood.
Her passion has moved Currier to participate in many civil rights protests, including the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C.
“I was at the 2017 march, and it was one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had,” Currier said. “My sister had breast cancer at the time, and it was actually the last major event I got to do with her She took a bus down from New York.”
Currier was also one of those who gathered in Lynchburg in one of the nationwide rallies for women’s rights Jan. 19.
“I’m so proud of being an American, (but) we have a history of slavery, we have a history of inequality, we have a history of not having equal rights for people,” Currier said. “I wish we had a permanent solution for the equal rights of women.”
For the last 40 years, the United States has been embroiled in a tug-of-war over the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and Virginia is now right in the middle of the skirmish.
The ERA is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution which guarantees equal rights under the law regardless of sex.
“It just brings the standard of scrutiny up to the same level as race, national origin, and religion,” said Jennifer Woofter, a Lynchburg business owner. “At the end of the day, that’s what it is.”
However, not all Virginians feel the same way. Kathy Byron, a Republican representative of the 22nd District of Virginia, said the ERA is an unnecessary measure in today’s society.
“Equal rights are already enshrined in the constitution,” Byron said. “Both men and women already have a full claim to equal rights under the 5th and the 14th amendments.”
Byron said she believes the ERA is outdated and should be looked at with greater scrutiny before being made into an amendment.
For Woofter, however, legal equality under the law is of the highest importance.
According to Woofter, court cases about discrimination on the basis of race, national origin and religion are looked at with “strict scrutiny.” This means defendants accused of discrimination on such grounds must provide a great deal of proof that they are innocent. The same cannot be said for discrimination on the basis of sex, says Woofter.
“If it’s based on sex, they use intermediate scrutiny,” Woofter said. “Which means that it is much more difficult to prove discrimination on the basis of sex.”
Many people against the passage of the ERA are afraid of the unintended effects the amendment could have, including infringement on religious liberty and conscience protections. Byron said some of her biggest objections to the ERA were in relation to abortion and religious freedom.
“Hundreds of churches in Virginia will almost certainly be faced with a dilemma: change your doctrine’s policies and practices regarding only-male clergy or risk losing your tax-exempt status,” Byron said. “It would supersede Title IX.”
Beau Wright, a member of the Lynchburg City Council, said he believes the ERA will not create as many of these unintended consequences as some people fear.
“If you look at the history of the ERA, I think some of the concerns are probably not as likely,” Wright said. “I understand that there are unintended consequences, but I think those have been pretty thoroughly debunked.”
According to the ERA website, the amendment first passed out of Congress in 1972 but has never been ratified by the necessary 38 states. Five states also rescinded their votes after voting to ratify the amendment.
Woofter, who is running for the 22nd district nomination for the House of Delegates, said the amendment will continue to move forward if Virginia ratifies it, even though other states have tried to take back their votes.
“The constitution gives states the right to ratify but not the right to revoke,” Woofter said. “There’s been three other of our amendments that have gone through even though states have tried to revoke, and the courts have ruled that you can’t revoke.”
Though the deadline to pass this amendment expired in 1982, people have continued to push for its ratification. The Senate of Virginia approved the bill on Jan. 15, but Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox has not put it to a vote in the House of Delegates.
Despite the setbacks, many citizens of Lynchburg like Woofter and Currier are holding out hope that Virginia will be the final state to approve the ERA. This includes Martha Cousins, one of the women who helped organize the Women’s March in downtown Lynchburg.
“There will come a time when history will judge the era that we’re living in,” Cousins said. “They will say ‘Where were you, and what did you do?’ And I want to be able to say I did something: I tried.”
Jackon is the Opinion Editor.