Kaylee Sheppard

Many women’s rights advocates are watching Virginia closely as the state's 2020 legislative session began Wednesday. Why Virginia, you ask? Because with the increase of Democratic lawmakers in the state, the Equal Rights Amendment has a good chance of being ratified by the Virginia legislature this session.

If the ERA passes in Virginia, it would become the 38th state to ratify it.

An amendment needs 38 states to be fully ratified and added to the U.S. Constitution. Due to arguments around an expiration date and its placement in the amendment, it may never get to be officially enacted.

Despite this looming despair around the amendment, this is still an important conversation to be having in the U.S.

What the Equal Rights Amendment attempted to do was solidify the idea of equal protection under law, specifically regarding gender.

If this were to pass, it would create increased protection for pregnant people. In addition, proponents often argue that the ERA would help women get equal pay and help victims of gender-based violence seek justice.

I think often women in the 20th century take certain laws and protections for granted. Many people argue there is no constitutional base to protect women equally under the law. Legal advocates such as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg fought tooth and nail to strip away many laws that discriminate between men and women. But at any moment in U.S. history, if societal opinions change, we could revert back to days when women could not get credit cards or rent cars in their own name. It’s scary thoughts like that, that make passing the ERA so important.

Overall, the greatest asset to come out of the ERA — if it is unable to be added to the constitution — would be a message that the United States is ready to equally put women on the same legal playing field as men. That after 200 years of a Constitution, which was written intentionally leaving out women and their interests, the U.S. is ready to make it very clear at the highest level of our law that women are no longer second-class citizens and should be treated with respect.

Although many mark the beginning of the battle over the ERA to 1972 when it was ratified to Congress, its real beginning was in 1920 when activist Alice Paul pushed the amendment to Congress. Most activists involved in the beginning that have fought for this amendment did not even live to see it ratified in the 70s. It is our duty to them to see this through.

Kaylee Sheppard is a senior majoring in American Studies and Political Science. She can be reached at ksheppa7@vols.utk.edu.

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