January 16, 2020 at 4:12 pm EST | by Philip Van Slooten
LGBTQ activists celebrate ratification of Equal Rights Amendment in Va.
Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck said ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the Virginia General Assembly sends “an important message.” (Photo courtesy of Vee Lamneck)

LGBTQ activists in Virginia and across the country continue to celebrate the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the state’s General Assembly.

Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, told the Washington Blade in a statement their organization is “encouraged by the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment here in the commonwealth” on Wednesday.

“This sends an important message that all Virginians deserve equal rights under the law,” they said. “We are one step closer to creating a Virginia where everyone can live, learn, and work free from fear of discrimination.”

Lamneck added Equality Virginia urges “our lawmakers to carry this spirit of equality forward and pass the Virginia Values Act, which will update and strengthen our laws to protect all people, including LGBT Virginians, from discrimination in housing, employment, and public spaces.”

“It’s heartening to see Virginia pass the ERA and affirm the importance of equality under law,” said Human Rights Campaign Deputy Commincations Director Nick Morrow, who pointed out to the Blade the 2020 legislative session began eight days ago on Jan. 8.  “Already, the new pro-equality majorities in the Virginia General Assembly are working on behalf of the rights of all — not just some — in the commonwealth.”

Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer for Equality Now, told Blade the ERA’s ratification protects the rights of “women, girls, non-binary folx, our transgender siblings and all marginalized genders.”

“As a queer woman, I cannot tell you how elated I am to finally see myself reflected in our nation’s most foundational document,” added Kelly.

Virginia is the 38th state to ratify the ERA, an important milestone needed to formally ensure gender equality is part of the Constitution.

“Putting gender equality in the Constitution does not right the wrongs of the past, nor fix all forms of discrimination,” cautioned Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County). “But it lays down a marker on a map that leads us to a more just and equal future.”

Currently, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin and sex. The U.S. Supreme Court is still considering if “sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Still, many view the ERA’s ratification as both historic and a step in the right direction.

“As someone who was a young legislative aide in 1980 when the ERA went down in defeat in the Virginia Senate,” said Virginia Democratic Party Chair Susan Swecker. “I am overjoyed that our Commonwealth has finally ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.”

Swecker added watching the measure pass under the leadership of a House speaker and Virginia Senate president pro tempore who were both women made her “unbelievably proud to be a Virginian and a woman today.”

Nevada in 2017 became the 36th state to ratify the ERA and Illinois followed suit the following year, but Virginia last year again failed to ratify it.

The ERA passed in the House by a 59-40 vote margin and in the Senate by a 28-12 vote margin. Governor Ralph Northam has signaled his support for the measure.

Attorney General Mark Herring in a press release described the vote as “historic” and a “major milestone in the fight for equality in this nation.”

“I am preparing to take any steps necessary to ensure that Virginia is recognized as the 38th ratifying state,” said Herring. “That the will of Virginians is carried out, and that the ERA is added to our Constitution, as it should be.”

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