Women’s rights group to hold Centennial rally Tuesday at State Capitol to fight for gender equality

by | Feb 15, 2016 | POLITICS

Hundreds of women, groups and organizations will descend upon the Virginia Capitol steps tomorrow to fight for equal rights for women everywhere.

Hundreds of women, groups and organizations will descend upon the Virginia Capitol steps tomorrow to fight for equal rights for women everywhere.

Women Matter, a local organization that has worked to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment since 2012, is spearheading a rally at the state Capitol to honor the suffragists’ gathering, on the Capitol steps, 100 years ago to secure women’s right to
vote. The Centennial rally’s initiative is to secure the ERA in the U.S. Constitution.

The group will bring together Gov. Terry McAuliffe as keynote speaker, along with Coline Jenkins, great-great granddaughter of women’s rights movement activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, former Congresswoman Leslie Byrne, Terry O’Neill of National Organization for Women and a number of other individuals to speak on the importance of ratifying the ERA.

“What we’re looking for is a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing gender equality,” said co-founder of Women Matter Eileen Davis. “Virginia has an equal rights amendment in its clause, but we don’t have it on the federal level.”

Introduced in 1923 by suffragist leader and National Woman’s Party founder Alice Paul, the ERA states equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

It passed by Congress in 1972 and was sent to the states for ratification. Thirty-five states approved the amendment over the next five years, and Congress imposed a seven-year deadline on the ratification process which was eventually extended to June 30, 1982.

However, it was not put into the Constitution because 38 states are needed for ratification and the other three needed did not ratify by the deadline.

Virginia is one of the fifteen states that has not yet ratified the ERA. A bill to ratify it has passed five times in the state’s Senate in the last six years, only to be shot down in the House. Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) introduced joint resolution SJ1 which cleared the Senate floor last month in a 21-19 vote and Davis is hoping this time around it will actually clear the House.

“We keep getting stone walled in the House,” Davis said. “They’re simply obstructing the democratic process at this point.”

Since it has passed the Senate so many times only to die in the House, it begs the question, why Virginia doesn’t want an amendment passed that would guarantee gender equality. Davis had a few thoughts citing fear of social change as a reason delegates aren’t moving to ratify the ERA.

“They think things are moving too fast,” she said. “Giving equality to women doesn’t take anything away for men.”

The 1982 ratification deadline for the ERA has what’s kept the House of Delegates from acting, according to Davis.

“They say they need an actual reason to remove the deadline and that would be a freshly ratified state, but what’s happening is (Del.) Mark Cole and (House) Speaker (William) Howell are refusing to do it,” Davis said. “What it really is their fear of social change.”

She also mentioned religious fundamentalism and sexism as factors.

“The Family Foundation showed up at one of our equal rights amendments events and said, ‘I don’t need my equality, I get my equality from God,’” Davis said. “A certain segment of the fundamentalists in the General Assembly believe the Bible mandates that women are secondary to men, under men. They don’t want their Constitution in opposition to The Bible.”

In a January 2011 interview with California Lawyer, recently passed Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said that the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does not protect against discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.

And while we do have Title IX, the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920, and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Davis said none of those laws are enough.

“A lot of people think those laws make a need for an equal rights amendment not an issue anymore,” she said. “We need to really get public support…we want gender to have the same Constitutional scrutiny as race.”

According to the Equal Rights Amendment website, 72 percent of people surveyed believe that right is already in the U.S. Constitution.

Davis had a message for young women that may believe they are already fully protected under the U.S. Constitution.

“We’ve come a long way, but you’re still not in the Constitution,” she said. “Women are not equal to men in our Constitution, there’s nothing in our Constitution that prohibits gender discrimination. We’re talking about some fundamental civil rights here.”

The Centennial Rally for Equal Rights will be held Tues. Feb. 16 on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol from 10 am to 3 pm. The rally will be held the first hour, followed by a vigil at the Bell Tower and a luncheon.

Amy David

Amy David

Amy David was the Web Editor for RVAMag.com from May 2015 until September 2018. She covered craft beer, food, music, art and more. She's been a journalist since 2010 and attended Radford University. She enjoys dogs, beer, tacos, and Bob's Burgers references.

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