In a virtual replay of its action last year, a Virginia House of Delegates committee voted 12 to 8 today against ratification of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning discrimination on the basis of sex.
"Will we be back next year?" Of course," vowed Del. Dorothy McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), who has sponsored the measure in the House for the past seven assembly sessions and seen it killed in committee each year. A Senate committee rejected the ERA bill last month.
Proponents of the legislation who have lobbied opposing lawmakers and conducted a daily vigil outside the Capitol here said today they would continue those activities. But they also promised to work for the defeat of ERA foes who seek reelection to the legislature.
"In every election about 13 to 23 percent of the House changes, and it is almost always the most senior members with 10 years service or more who don't come back for one reason or another," said Muriel Smith, executive director of Virginians for ERA.
Smith said her group is not permitted to take action for or against candidates, but she acknowledged that other ERA proponents will be working to defeat anti-ERA incumbents.
One legislator most prominently targeted for defeat is Del. Hardaway Marks (D-Hopewell), a longtime ERA opponent who serves on the House Privileges and Elections Committee, which has repeatedly killed the bill.
McDiarmid, whose bill was supported by the four Northern Virginians on the committee -- Dels. Mary Marshall (D-Arlington), Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax), Richard R.G. Hobson (D-Alexandria) and Earl E. Bell (D-Loudoun) -- took some comfort in noting that the panel's backing of the measure had increased over the years.
"It only got two votes the first time," she said.
Today's vote failed to provoke the angry demonstration that led to the arrest of two ERA supporters last year when the same committee voted 12 to 8 against the bill. Charges against the two women demonstrators were subsequently dropped.