Virginia House Delegates who support the Equal Rights Amendment were rebuffed today when they tried to bring the measure to the House floor. But the ERA proponents took some comfort in forcing a procedural vote they say puts legislators "on record" on the issue.
House members voted 52 to 42 to send the ERA proposal to the committee that has been notoriously hostile to it and has blocked its consideration by the full House in six previous legislative sessions.
"The whole House needs to consider this resolution which brings to people, all people, equality before the law," argued Del. Dorothy S. McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), one of the ERA's chief sponsors. "It's terribly important to your constituents and mine."
The ERA, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex, has never reached the House floor and only once reached the state Senate, where it was rejected by a one-vote margin.Earlier this week a Senate committee again voted against reporting the amendment.
Several Northern Virginia delegates had spent days developing a carefully orchestrated parliamentary maneuver designed to have the House become a committee of the whole so all the delegates could vote on the resolution.
Supporters of the ERA delivered telegrams and letters to delegates this morning informing them that they would regard the vote on dissolving the House into the committee of the whole proposal as a vote on the ERA itself.
"The legislators knew what the vote meant," said Lulu Meese, vice chairman of the Virginia ERA Ratification Council.
Meese said ERA proponents appeared to have picked up six additional supporters for the amendment in the House, where only 36 delegates voted to bring the bill to the floor in 1976 and 1977.
ERA backers said afterwards that today's House vote gives them a record that can be used in elections this fall against those delegates who voted to send the resolution to the committee. All 140 assembly members are up for reelection.
"Many women are very concerned about the action of members who haven't recognized the importance of this issue, and they will hold their elected representatives accountable," said Meese.
The attempt to bypass the Privileges and Election Committee was opposed by its chairman, Del. J. Warren White (D-Norfolk), who supports ERA but warned of "chaos all over the place" if controversial issues were brought directly to the House. Other delegates later cited belief in the committee system as their reason for opposing the bypass attempt.
Among Northern Virginia area legislators, only Dels. Warren E. Barry and Robert L. Thoburn (R-Fairfax) voted against considering the ERA measure on the house floor.