The Equal Rights Amendment was revived again today with the passage of the measure by a Senate committee, but the chances of its ratification by the Virginia General Assembly remain slim.
Pro-ERA forces said today's 9-to-6 vote by the Senate Privileges and Elections committee is the first step toward reviving the amendment after a series of anticipated mishaps. "We have a very good chance for ratification on the Senate side," said ERA lobbyist Marianne Fowler. "And if we have done that, the prospect of ratification on the House side becomes a reality."
Opponents of the measure, however, predicted that today's vote would do little to improve ERA's chances in Virginia, where legislators have voted against ratification for the past nine years.
"I just don't believe the members of the House of Delegates who oppose the ERA are going to change their positions even if the Senate passes it through," said Geline Williams, co-chairman of the Virginia Steering Committee to Stop ERA.
Supporters of the measure said they hope a victory in the full Senate would force members of the House to reconsider their opposition to the bill: "They have a real reluctance . . . to go out on a limb for the purpose of going out on a limb," Fowler said. "We have to make it a reality for them."
The Senate two years ago failed, on a 20-19 vote, to muster the constitutional majority needed to ratify the ERA. This year, proponents said, they expect a 20-20 tie, with the tie-breaking vote coming from Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis, a Democratic ERA supporter. Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb also has been meeting with anti-ERA senators in an effort to win their support for the amendment.
Senators who oppose the measure hint privately that they may not all be present when the matter comes up for a vote Tuesday. If even one opponent does not vote, there will be no tie and Davis then can not cast the 21st vote needed for passage.
Today's vote marks the second time that the Senate panel has passed the ERA during the past three years. On Monday, the House of Delegates voted 62-to-35 to kill a parliamentary maneuver designed to bypass a committee where it was expected to die. On Wednesday that committee voted overwhelmingly to reject the bill.
The proposed constitutional amendment, which prohibits sex discrimination, has been approved by 35 of the 38 state legislatures needed for ratification. It is scheduled to die this summer unless three more states approve ratification. National ERA advocates say they never have counted on Virginia for ratification, and currently are concentrating their efforts in Florida, Oklahoma and Illinois.