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VIRGINIA’S ELECTIONS A HISTORIC VICTORY FOR EQUALITY

November 6, 2019 GMT
Activists, including actress Alyssa Milano (center), Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy of Virginia (left) and Equality Now Human Rights Attorney Kate Kelly (right) appear on Capitol Hill in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, April 30, 2019.
Activists, including actress Alyssa Milano (center), Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy of Virginia (left) and Equality Now Human Rights Attorney Kate Kelly (right) appear on Capitol Hill in support of the Equal Rights Amendment, April 30, 2019.

New York, NY, Nov. 06, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Women’s rights are one step closer to being enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, thanks to voters in Virginia, who on November 5th, elected a slew of candidates that support ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Many Americans believe that men and women’s equal rights are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, but they are mistaken. The ERA is a proposed constitutional amendment that would finally provide the strongest possible protection for women by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex.

“The Equal Rights Amendment is critical to achieving legal equality in America,” explains Shelby Quast, America’s Director at women’s rights organization Equality Now. “Without it, women are only protected by piecemeal legislation, which as we are currently witnessing, can be eroded or reversed. The ERA provides a constitutional anchor from which we can base permanent protections for women and girls.”

Campaigners at both a national and grassroots level have played a critical role in positioning the ERA as a key election issue in Virginia, with many Democratic candidates making it a central part of their campaign. The ERA has proved popular with local voters, over 80% of the public back it and support cuts across race, religion, political party, age, and sexual identity.

All 140 seats in the Virginia state Senate and House were up for re-election. Democrats succeeded in flipping both the Senate, where they picked up at least two seats, and the House of Delegates, where they gained at least five seats. This is the first time the party has had full control of the Virginia State Legislature in 25 years.

The newly elected representatives are anticipated to bring the ERA vote to the floor in January 2020, where it is expected to pass.

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, thanks to the 19th Amendment (although many women of color were excluded due to discriminatory laws like Jim Crow). The ERA was written by suffragist Alice Paul in 1923, following the adoption of the 19th Amendment, and was passed by Congress in 1972 but fell three states short of what was needed to change the constitution.

37 states have now ratified the ERA, but in order for it to reach the threshold of approval, 38 states are required.

Virginia is one of 13 that have failed to do so. Despite passing the state Senate six times, the House repeatedly prevented a vote on the resolution, with Republicans last winter side-lining the bill into a subcommittee where it died after being blocked by four Republican lawmakers.

However, the ERA does have several vocal Republican supporters. Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski has spoken out in favor of its passage, and former Republican State Representative Steve Andersson was crucial to getting the ERA through the Illinois legislature in 2018.

One further challenge is that the 1972 legislation included a seven-year deadline for ratification. There are currently two bills pending in Congress to eliminate the deadline, but in order for them to get to the floor, there needs to be a coordinated and bipartisan show of popular support.

With Virginia now on the cusp of ratifying the amendment, campaigners will continue to advocate at both the local and national level. Made up of 100 national and local organizations, The ERA Coalition has been working across the country to strategize and increase public understanding about the need for the ERA.

Meanwhile, at the grassroots level, local volunteer groups like VA ratify ERA are successfully galvanizing public support through community outreach, canvassing, lobbying, and social media campaigns.

When it comes to constitutional protections for women, the United States is out of step with most of the world. “Globally, 77% of countries have recognized the equality of women in their constitutions and it is high time for the US to catch up. Virginia’s election results bring the country one momentous step closer to that reality,” says Quast.

ENDS

Attachment

-- ERA hearing photo (1)

Tara Carey Equality Now 212-586-0906 tcarey@equalitynow.org Emma Stoskopf-Ehrlich Equality Now 212-586-0906 estoskopfehrlich@equalitynow.org