WASHINGTON -- The fate of a bill calling for Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution remains in flux after the state Senate's Republican leadership undid a successful vote on the matter Tuesday in retribution for Democratic action on an unrelated bill.
The ERA, which Congress passed in 1972, declares: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” In 1982, the amendment fell three states short of the number needed to enshrine it in the U.S. Constitution. Some ERA proponents believe the 1972 language remains constitutionally viable and that only three additional state ratifications are required for the amendment to be adopted, while others believe that Congress must start from scratch since the ratification deadline passed in 1982.
On Tuesday, the Virginia Senate bill to join those 35 states passed initially, with 21 votes in favor and 17 against. But Democrats then narrowly defeated Republican-supported legislation to amend the state constitution and guarantee that union votes would conducted by a secret ballot. In response, GOP senators who had voted for the ERA legislation moved to reconsider it, undoing the successful vote.
Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R) told the Daily Press that his party's parliamentary maneuver to un-pass the ERA bill was "quid pro quo" for the Democrats' actions on the union vote.
ERA opponents claim that the amendment is unnecessary and that equal rights for women are already guaranteed. A similar version of the ERA legislation passed the Virginia Senate 2014, though the bill failed in the House of Delegates, which is more conservative.
Justin Strekal, a legislative aide to state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), who is the sponsor of the ERA legislation, argued that the GOP was "running down the clock" until Feb. 10, when all legislation that has passed the Senate is sent to the House and any bills that remain unresolved die, and vice versa.
"We’re going to keep on putting it forward until we get to crossover day," Strekal told The Huffington Post Wednesday. "It’s a big statement to say it passed in the Senate."
The Democratic Party of Virginia suggested that the GOP senators had voted the way they did out of electoral caution, given that they'll be up for re-election in November.
"Virginia Senate Republicans are so spooked by Tea Party primaries that they're resorting to procedural tricks to appease the right wing," spokeswoman Morgan Finkelstein said. "I would hope that if someone supported equal rights yesterday they'll support equal rights tomorrow, but sadly this is the extreme Virginia Republican Party we're talking about here. Senate Majority Leader Norment literally admitted that his caucus is undoing votes based purely on political revenge. These shenanigans are a new level of low -- far beneath the standard of behavior we expect from our elected representatives."