Following weeks of protest and debate, Republicans in Virginia defeated an Equal Rights Amendment bill that Democrats have tried to revive on multiple occasions. On Thursday, Virginia's GOP-led House of Delegates shot down two efforts to ratify the federal ERA, prompting shouts of protest from ERA advocates who were sitting in the House gallery.
"Shame on Virginia!” one ERA supporter yelled from the gallery, according to The Washington Post. Another advocate shouted that they were "absolutely disgusted" by the GOP's decision. According to The Hill, Virginia would have been the 38th state to ratify the ERA, which in turn would have satisfied the three-fourths requirement for it to be added to the Constitution. For a new amendment to be added to the Constitution, 38 states — or three-fourths of all 50 states — must ratify it.
As it has multiple times in the past, Virginia's ERA resolution passed the state's Senate, but never made it to the House floor for a vote because it failed to clear a House subcommittee. According to The Washington Post, Virginia House Democrats had hoped to use procedural measures to change House rules and force Republicans to bring the ERA to a floor vote for the first time. However, Virginia Republicans quashed that effort, which means that the state's House of Delegates is unlikely to vote on the ERA during its current legislative session.
“History will not remember members of this General Assembly favorably," Democratic state Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy reportedly told her fellow lawmakers following the ERA's defeat. Foy has been one of the ERA's top advocates in Virginia, per The Hill, and she sponsored the state's effort to ratify the bill.
The fight to ratify the ERA in Virginia drew international attention this week when a judge ordered a women's rights protester to be held indefinitely without bail. The protester, Michelle Renay Sutherland, was arrested on Monday after exposing her left breast outside the Virginia Capitol in an attempt to advocate for the ERA. She was reenacting Virginia's state seal, The Hill reported, which depicts the Roman goddess Virtus holding a spear and a sword while her left breast is exposed. According to The Washington Post, Sutherland was released on Thursday after initially being held without bail.
Thirty-seven of the required 38 states have already ratified the ERA — with Illinois being the most recent, having passed ERA legislation in May 2018. A coalition of lawmakers hoped to make Virginia the 38th and final state to ratify the amendment, though measures to pass the ERA in Virginia have failed multiple times in the past decade. Virginia Democrats hoped that their latest effort would be successful, The Washington Post reported, particularly because they picked up 15 new seats and nearly seized control of the state's House of Delegates.
Even if Virginia had passed the ERA during its current legislative session, however, the amendment would not have automatically been added to the Constitution; the deadline for states to ratify the amendment expired in 1982, though ERA advocates have noted that "no amendment before the 20th century had a time limit attached to it." According to The Washington Post, the amendment's supporters will proceed to support ERA legislation in North Carolina, where lawmakers are expected to introduce their own ERA ratification measure next month.