Hello, University of Richmond students!
I’d like to welcome you back to campus with an invitation to participate in making history right here in Virginia.
On Sunday, Aug. 26, the VAratifyERA campaign celebrates Women’s Equality Day as we launch the effort to ensure Virginia is the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Legislators in eight venues around the state will show "Iron Jawed Angels," filmed in Virginia, that tells the story of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and their fight for the 19th Amendment.
The celebration in Richmond will kick off at the Byrd Theatre at 1:30 p.m. (Doors will open at 1 p.m.) Virginia Sens. Rosalyn Dance, Jennifer McClellan, '94, and Glen Sturtevant will co-host the screening and will speak afterward. Tickets are free, and the event is open to the public.
At a time when the country seems so polarized, gender equality is a topic with which we find bipartisan consensus. Polling in 2015 showed that 94% of Americans believed gender equality should be in the Constitution and 80% of Americans thought it was already there.
During Virginia’s 2018 legislative session, the Equal Rights Amendment resolution achieved the patronage of a majority of legislators in both the House and the Senate. For Virginia to make history with a ratification, we need only for Senate and House leadership to advance the Equal Rights Amendment to both floors for a vote.
Historically, the arguments against the Equal Rights Amendment were founded in a desire for societal status quo. However, the major arguments from the '70s (unisex bathrooms, gay marriage, women in the military, etc.) have since occurred as a result of societal shifts and progress, not because of a nonexistent Equal Rights Amendment.
So what do they say now? Many unsupportive legislators stick to talking points about the 1979 (later extended to 1982) deadline for states to ratify the amendment. They conveniently ignore the Constitutional scholars who have weighed in and said the deadline could be ruled unconstitutional or removed/extended by Congress. They also ignore the fact that Nevada ratified in 2017 and Illinois ratified in 2018. They now will also have to ignore the Virginia attorney general’s opinion.
So what is the real opposition? I hate to say it, but I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that it could be old-fashioned sexism. Here is a smattering of what we’ve heard when lobbying Virginia’s legislators:
“We can’t ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, because I don’t want my granddaughter drafted.”
“Oh, honey, you just don’t really understand what you are asking for,” a patronizing man in his 70s said as he patted my friend on the shoulder.
“It’s all about the unintended consequences.”
“You ladies are lucky you have the right to vote!”
Every constitution written since World War II has included gender equality. With the simplicity of the Equal Rights Amendment — “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex” — we can modernize ours as well. Gender equality is an ideal that can and should be included in all constitutions, which is why the U.S. State Department required Afghanistan to include it in its constitution, despite its omission from our own.
The Constitution is the foundation and bedrock of our judicial system. I reject any notion that an Equal Rights Amendment is unneeded because “women are already equal” on two premises: First, a Constitutional Amendment provides more protection than legislation, which can be changed with a single vote and a simple majority. Second, because gender equality is not directly outlined in our Constitution, gender discrimination cases are not given the same level of judicial scrutiny as religious or racial discrimination cases. As a result, many women with cases that won at every level in the court system suddenly lose at the Supreme Court.
Women cannot fight gender discrimination on unsuitable constitutional grounds such as the “Interstate Commerce Clause.” We need an Equal Rights Amendment. I believe equality is more like love and less like pie; the more you give, the more you get. I also believe our modern society is ready for any “unintended consequences” of increased equality.
Kati Hornung, '95, and campaign coordinator for VAratifyERA