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Bid to revive Equal Rights Amendment fails by 1 vote

February 21, 2019

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A last-ditch effort to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia — which would have been a key milestone in a nearly half-century old campaign — came up a single vote short Thursday.

The House of Delegates deadlocked 50-50 on a bid to force a full floor vote on the gender-equality measure, with the tie vote meaning the effort failed.

Supporters of the ERA had hoped this increasingly blue state was going to be the 38th state to ratify the amendment. Having 38 states on board would meet the U.S. Constitution’s threshold for approval, but it would also likely spark battles in the courts and Congress over a long-passed 1982 deadline and various other legal issues.

Those are all moot for now, as Virginia House Republicans defeated unusual parliamentary moves by Democrats to try and bring a full floor vote on the ERA on Thursday. This year’s legislative session is set to end on Saturday, meaning the issue is dead for this year.

The proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution would outlaw discrimination based on gender, providing Congress with firmer grounding to pass anti-discrimination laws while giving lawsuits more strength in the courts. Supporters said it’s a long overdue measure needed to provide equal protection to women under the law. Opponents said it’s an unnecessary measure that would, among other things, loosen abortion regulations.

ERA supporters mounted an unusually aggressive lobbying and advocacy campaign this year. Advocates held vigils and often packed Capitol hallways to greet lawmakers on their way to the House or Senate chambers. Some staged multiple protests aimed at House Republican leaders, including one that led to a women being arrested and jailed for several days on a charge of indecent exposure. Democrats made pointed comments aimed at their Republican colleagues during floor speeches.

“I see men that still allow the legacy of fear from opening the doors of opportunity for others,” said Democratic Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, “Fear has caused this body to be on the wrong side of history ... too many times and for far too long.”

The pro-ERA legislation easily passed the Republican-controlled Senate with bipartisan support, but stalled in the House.

Republicans there said ratifying the ERA could lead to a raft of unintended consequences, including making it harder for women-owned businesses to win state contracts.

And GOP House Majority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert said the ERA was being pushed by pro-abortion advocates as a way of gaining “an unfettered right to an abortion, right up until the moment of birth and at taxpayer expense.”

Republicans have a 51-49 advantage in the House. The lone GOP defector on Thursday’s vote was Republican Del. David Yancey, whose 2017 re-election race ended in a tie and had to be decided by a random name drawing.

Some ERA-supporters heckled Republicans from the gallery after the vote. Daphne Portis of Richmond yelled out that Republicans were disrespecting her 23 years spent in the Air Force, and called the vote “disgusting.”

“I defended this country, and they should be defending me,” she said.

Democrats have made clear that they intend to make the ERA a key issue during this year’s legislative elections. All 140 House and Senate seats will be up for grabs in what’s expected to be a competitive fight for partisan control of the General Assembly.

Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb said her socially conservative group will help Republicans who voted against the ERA. She said Democrats pushing the ERA, along with other legislation aimed at loosening restrictions on late-term abortions, are out of step with the majority of Virginia voters.

“We’ll be impactful, particularly in the areas where there are tight races to make sure that people understand why these delegates voted the way they did,” Cobb said.

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