The Virginia Senate passed a resolution on Tuesday for Virginia to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment.
Seven Republicans joined all 19 of the chamber’s Democrats in supporting the resolution sponsored by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond.
The resolution now goes to the House of Delegates. Should it pass there, it would be sent to the national archivist.
Supporters of the resolution say Virginia being the 38th state to ratify the ERA means it would be added to the U.S. Constitution.
Opponents say that the deadline for ratification expired in 1982, and argue that should the amendment become law, it would have unintended consequences detrimental to women.
The proposed federal amendment says: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It provides that Congress shall have the power to enforce its provisions “by appropriate legislation.”
Among Republicans who joined in support of the ERA were Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment of James City County, and Sens. Frank Wagner and Bill DeSteph, both of Virginia Beach.
Republicans control the Senate, 21-19, and all 140 seats in the legislature are up for election in November.
Several Republicans senators had expressed support for the ERA before Tuesday’s vote, and it passed out of a committee on the opening day of this year’s General Assembly session. Its real test will be in the House, where Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, chairman of the Privileges and Elections Committee, has said he’s not sure how he’ll handle the issue.
Six Democrats spoke in favor of the ERA on the Senate floor after Sturtevant explained his reasons for sponsoring the resolution. Two Republicans — Sen. Dick Black of Loudoun County and Amanda Chase of Chesterfield County — spoke against it.
Sen. Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, called Sturtevant the “lawyer in chief” for the way he studied and explained his resolution.
Sturtevant said smart people can disagree over whether there’s still a chance for the amendment to become law. But even if Tuesday’s vote was simply symbolic, he argued, lawmakers should still support the ERA.
He noted that several states have ratified the ERA in recent years and said that to his knowledge, neither Congress nor a court has told them they were wrong.
Black, a conservative not seeking re-election this year, said efforts to pass the ERA came to a halt 40 years ago when people realized the “unintended consequences.”
Laws restricting abortions would be swept away under it, he said.
“The ERA’s impacts are potentially very harsh and revolutionary,” he said. “It will sweep the field of the abortion laws that vast numbers of Americans have fought for and struggled for since 1973.”
Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said it would be poetic justice for Virginia — a state on the wrong side of slavery, Massive Resistance and other issues — to become the state that put the amendment over the top.
“We should be the 38th state to ratify the ERA and finally bring truth to the promise that we are all created equal,” she said.