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Democratic Victory in Virginia Paves Way for Final Approval of Equal Rights Amendment

"When people tell you that their vote doesn't matter point them to Virginia and the possibility of finally ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. Elections have consequences."

U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) speak at a news conference on women's rights April 30, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. On Friday Nadler announced his committee would begin marking up a bill to allow Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, clearing the way for it to become constitutional law. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

House Democrats wasted no time Friday preparing to allow for the Equal Rights Amendment to enter into force, just three days after Democrats won control of Virginia's legislature—making it likely that the commonwealth will soon become the 38th state to ratify the amendment.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced Friday the committee will mark up a bill next week that would do away with the 1982 deadline for states to ratify the amendment, often called the ERA.

"After decades of work by tireless advocates, it is time for Congress to act and clear the way for Virginia, or any other state, to finally ratify the ERA and for discrimination on the basis of sex to be forever barred by the Constitution," Nadler said in a statement.

A deadline of 1979 was originally set in 1972 when Congress passed the ERA, but advocates were unable to convince the 38 states needed to ratify the amendment to adopt it by then; only 35 states had adopted it by 1982, the second deadline that was set.

It wasn't until 2018 that Illinois became the 37th state to approve the ERA, following Nevada, which ratified it the previous year. The two states were the first to approve the amendment after the passing of the deadline.

Soon after Democrats in Virginia won control on Tuesday of both the state Senate and House of Delegates, pro-ERA advocates in the state and across the country celebrated the likely approval of the law.

"We will be bringing [the ERA] back, and yes, we do have the votes to pass it," Virginia state Rep. Eileen Filler-Corn told The Atlantic Friday.

The law would enshrine in the U.S. Constitution a ban on discrimination on the basis of sex. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination, it only applies to companies with 15 or more employees.

As the advocacy group VA Ratify ERA wrote on Twitter, the Constitutional amendment would strengthen domestic violence laws, pregnancy discrimination protections, and push companies to adopt parental leave policies for men as well as women.

VA Ratify ERA reported that a desire to see the ERA ratified was one of the top three motivators that sent Virginia voters to the polls on Tuesday.

"This is a pivotal moment in our nation's history and in the fight for equality. It's a moment that will be recorded in the history books as a time when Chairman Nadler and our colleagues on the committee worked to protect and advance the rights of more than half of the citizenry and voted for women and girls to finally see themselves in our Constitution," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), co-chair of the Democratic Women's Caucus.

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