A Virginia Senate committee today killed a proposal to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, and some of the most ardent supporters of the measure said afterwards that chances for its passage are all but dead this legislative session.
In a predictable but no less disappointing outcome for ERA proponents, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted 8 to 7 against the bill. The defeat marked the seventh time in an many years that the proposed constitutional amendment banning discrimination on the basis of sex has filed to win approval in the General Assembly.
The 15 male members of the committee listened to an hour of low-key arguments for and against the bill this morning, then met briefly in the afternoon and voted without any discussion beforehand.
Women supporters and opponents of the bill crowded into the small Old Senate Chamber in the Capitol to watch the vote but showed little emotion either way afterwards. This was in sharp contrast to last year when a House committee's anti-ERA vote provoked an angry demonstration by ERA proponents.
"I continue to be disappointed," said Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax) today after the committee's failure to move Virginia closer to becoming the 36th state to ratify the ERA. The amendment requires approval by 38 states to become effective.
Gartlan said the committee's action likely will make attempts to pass the ERA in the Virginia House "almost futile" since that body and its Privileges and Elections Committee long have opposed the amendment.
Del. Elise B. Heinz (D-Arlington) said some House members still plan to introduce a resolution of support for the measure "to have a record. We have to go back and get reelected by all the people who sent us to Richmond to get the ERA ratified."
All three Northern Virginians on the Senate committee, Omer L. Hirst, Adelard L. Brault, and Gartlan, all Fairfax Democrats, voted in favor of sending the ERA to the Senate floor.
Speakers at today's hearing acknowledged that the ERA debate in the Virginia Assembly had gone on for so long that little new could be said for or against.
Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb urged approval of the ERA, saying "the people want it, the times require it, and it seems to me to be an act of fundamental justice."
But Gilene Williams, who cochairs the Virginia Steering Committee to Stop ERA, said legal rights of equality "have already been won." She warned the amendment "would impose a single standard of sameness on the sexes... and no one knows what the legal consequences will be or how the measure would be carried out."