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Equal Rights Amendment Supporters Rally Outside Virginia Legislature


The Virginia state Legislature opened today. And for the first time in more than two decades, Democrats are in control. Top of their agenda - becoming the 38th and final state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. That's the U.S. constitutional amendment put forward by Congress in 1972 that would ban sex-based discrimination. As Mallory Noe-Payne of member station WVTF reports, advocates showed up in Richmond today in full force.


MALLORY NOE-PAYNE, BYLINE: As they walked into the Statehouse, lawmakers were greeted by a joyous crowd of Equal Rights Amendment supporters.

KATI HORNUNG: (Laughter) I feel like this is, like, the red carpet day - is what this really feels like.

NOE-PAYNE: Kati Hornung has worked on the ERA campaign in Virginia for several years. In that time, Republican leadership in the House has never brought it up for a vote. But after November's election, Republicans are no longer in charge. Now the new Democratic leadership has vowed to pass the ERA quickly.

HORNUNG: Today, we are welcoming back the Legislature, and we have all the votes we need and the leadership in the House that we've drastically needed for years.

NOE-PAYNE: If Virginia is the last state to ratify, it could have national implications. That's what brought Kim Pordias (ph) all the way from Florida.

KIM PORDIAS: Our hopes are all about Virginia. And when Virginia ratifies, it will ratify for - the whole Constitution for all of us. So we need to be celebrating every step what the people on the ground here have done for the United States in Virginia.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) ERA means equal pay. ERA means equal pay. ERA...

NOE-PAYNE: Walking through the crowd, lawmakers supportive of the cause, like Democratic Delegate Elizabeth Guzman, stopped to wave and cheer.

ELIZABETH GUZMAN: As a woman, as a mother of three daughters, this is the time. It's overdue. We need that constitutional change.

NOE-PAYNE: Some conservatives say that constitutional change is unnecessary and that it could slow down efforts to limit access to abortion.

Opposition to the ERA isn't new. Georgia Fuller (ph) remembers lobbying state lawmakers in the 1970s. She and others delivered thousands of signatures to the House leader at the time.

GEORGIA FULLER: Asking him to push for ratification of the ERA. And we carried them all the way down - five days - and he refused to receive them.

NOE-PAYNE: Being here today, she's more hopeful.

FULLER: Wonderful - I mean, I wasn't sure I'd see it in my lifetime, but it's just really wonderful. In many ways, it's my life's work.

NOE-PAYNE: Work that she knows it may still be far from over. That's because passage in Virginia isn't the final challenge for the Equal Rights Amendment. The effort will face legal hurdles before the Constitution can be changed. Just this week, the Department of Justice said the ERA has expired. And if states want it ratified, they'll have to start the process over. Legal experts tell NPR that doesn't necessarily kill the amendment, but it could mean a lengthy court battle.

For NPR News, I'm Mallory Noe-Payne in Richmond. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mallory Noe-Payne is a freelance reporter and producer based in Richmond, Virginia. Although she's a native Virginian, she's most recently worked for public radio in Boston. There, she helped produce stories about higher education, including a nationally-airing series on the German university system. In addition to working for WGBH in Boston, she's worked at WAMU in Washington D.C. She graduated from Virginia Tech with degrees in Journalism and Political Science.