With Democrats newly in the majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, Virginia last month became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, meeting the numerical threshold set when it was first approved by Congress nearly 40 years ago.
Proponents say the amendment, which guarantees legal protections on the basis of sex, can now be enacted. But opponents say that the deadline set by Congress has long passed — and that several states that initially approved the amendment have rescinded their votes in recent years.
Both sides have filed lawsuits seeking a court decision on the issue, even as ERA supporters in Congress seek legislative remedies.
Thursday’s vote is on a resolution introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) that would eliminate the deadline.
Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced a similar resolution in the Senate.
All Democrats in the House and Senate from Virginia and Maryland are co-sponsors of the resolution, except House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), who missed the deadline to be a co-sponsor of the resolution but strongly supports it.
Female lawmakersin the House plan to wear purple Thursday to highlight the vote.
At a news conference Wednesday showcasing leaders of the ERA movement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats paid tribute to Virginia’s role in pushing the amendment forward.
As Wexton approached the lectern, Pelosi said “Virginia!” and led lawmakers and activists in a round of applause.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) introduced Wexton as “the woman who’s bringing us so much excitement from her state.”
Wexton defeated Republican Barbara Comstock in 2018. She is one of three freshman Democrats from Virginia — the others are Reps. Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria — who flipped red seats to blue that year, helping Democrats take control of the House.
“Do we have any Virginians in the house?” Wexton asked Wednesday.
Spanberger was there, with her mother, Eileen Davis, a longtime ERA advocate who was in Richmond to witness the ratification vote by a General Assembly that boasts a record number of female delegates.
Wexton shared a favorite story about the reverse side of the Virginia state seal, which depicts three goddesses and is inscribed with the Latin word for “persevering.”
“And that seems especially fitting today,” Wexton said.
“How is this possible with all the things women have done, all the strides women have made in their professional careers and everything else,” Luria said in an interview, “how is it not written into the Constitution that women have equal rights under the law?”
After the amendment was ratified in Richmond, commemorative copies of the state House and Senate resolutions were delivered by courier to members of the Virginia congressional delegation.
Luria, Wexton and Spanberger posed for photos last week with their copies in front of a monument in the Capitol Rotunda to three pioneers of the women’s suffrage movement: Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
The congresswomen say they plan to frame the historic documents and hang them in their Capitol Hill offices.
Luria, a former U.S. Navy commander, said in an interview that for years she did not realize that women’s equality was not enshrined in the Constitution, perhaps because she relied on the protection of equality clauses in military policy.
“The military does often lead on social issues,” she said. “If you think about [racial] integration, opportunities for women, LGBT equality, it is often policies in the military that [were] ahead of laws on a broader scale.”
Spanberger recalled watching her mother work for years in Richmond to get the state legislature to pass the amendment. She will stand on the House floor Thursday with the feisty 12-year-old daughter of a constituent who advocated for the ERA. But she said she will be thinking of Davis as well.
“As a daughter, I feel great pride in watching the movement grow and expand,” she said in an interview. “There’s women and men of all ages, of all backgrounds cheering and advocating and excited about the ERA.”
Wexton said she always knew the Virginia House would ratify the measure, eventually.
“And if they didn’t, we’d elect people who would,” she said. “And we did.”