Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment rallied outside the Capitol in Richmond on the first day of the 2019 General Assembly session in January. | Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury
With Virginia primed to be the pivotal 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) — meaning that the necessary three-quarters of states are on board — women’s rights activists are hailing progress on the long-debated issue.
Michigan signed off more than 40 years ago, on May 22, 1972. But as the Advance previously reported, a lawsuit filed on Dec. 17 by Republican attorneys general in three states, Alabama, Louisiana and South Dakota, seeks to stop the amendment in its tracks, arguing that the deadline for ratification has expired.
On Tuesday, the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) executive committee condemned the lawsuit. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told the Advance she agrees.
“We stand with women and for equality,” the DAGA board said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we cannot say the same of these Republican Attorneys General. We urge our colleagues from across the aisle to reconsider this wrongheaded waste of taxpayer dollars. It’s 2020, not 1920.
“These same Republican Attorneys General are trying to gut health care for millions of Americans, roll back environmental protections, and reverse years of progress in reproductive freedom,” the committee continued. “At least now they are making abundantly clear what we’ve known all along — they do not believe in equality for women. This preemptive lawsuit is a blatant effort to thwart our democracy and block women from gaining Constitutional equality, which is already long overdue.”
The committee, which is co-chaired by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (MA), said it supports Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring in the fight.
“Democratic Attorneys General prioritize promoting women’s rights and equality for all,” the board said. “These are non-negotiable.”
Nessel, who was elected in 2018, has been a strong advocate of women’s rights.
“Inequality doesn’t just hurt women; it hurts the families we help support, the places where we work, and the communities where we live,” she said in a statement Wednesday. “That’s why gender equality isn’t just a women’s rights issue; it’s a human rights issue. Achieving equality means that we value the dreams of our daughters as much as the dreams of our sons; and, the Equal Rights Amendment is the way that we protect those dreams for generations to come.”
The 13 states that haven’t ratified the ERA are: Arizona, Utah, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Virginia.
A congressional deadline was imposed when Congress passed the ERA. Lawmakers initially set a March 1979 ratification deadline for states, which was later extended to June 1982. But the amendment still hadn’t gotten the backing of 38 states when that deadline expired.
There are efforts in both the U.S. House and Senate to extend the deadline, with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) as key supporters.
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