By Stefanie Jackson
In a rare decision Tuesday night, the Northampton board of supervisors approved a resolution supporting not a local matter but a topic of statewide and nationwide impact – the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would guarantee equal rights for women and men.
Linda Schulz, chair of the Northampton County Democratic Committee, submitted the resolution for supervisors’ consideration in December.
“We need to have this amendment even though there has been a great deal of progress in terms of legislation and practice, in terms of gender equity,” Schulz said.
Both liberal and conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Antonin Scalia, respectively, agreed that “sexual equality is not guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” Schulz said.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was first introduced to Congress in 1923. It was supported through numerous demonstrations of the National Organization of Women (NOW). In 1972, the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed the amendment, both by majorities of more than 90 percent.
But for the amendment to become law, it had to be ratified by at least three-fourths of the 50 states, or 38 states. There were 22 states that ratified the amendment within one year, but progress slowed in the face of opposition from the conservative group, Stop Taking Our Privileges, Equal Rights Amendment (STOP ERA).
In 2017 and 2018, Nevada and Illinois became the 36th and 37th states to ratify the ERA. Virginia is poised to become the 38th state to ratify the amendment in 2019.
Schulz believes Virginia becoming the deciding factor in making the ERA law would be a positive and the state would receive “accolades for its leadership on a longstanding civil rights issue.”
The chairman of the board of supervisors, Spencer Murray, agreed with Schulz. “The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice,” he said, paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr.
Ratifying the ERA is “an opportunity for Virginia, already a bedrock of our nation, to add to the history and again move the arc toward justice,” Murray said.
The resolution would send a message to state legislators that there is “strong, bipartisan, grassroots support” for the ERA, including 81 percent of Virginians, according to a recent poll, Schulz said.
Betty Bibbins, of Cheriton, and Robert Toner, of Exmore, also spoke in favor of the resolution.
Supervisor Robert Duer supported the resolution but recommended the board develop a procedure for considering future requests because he didn’t want to get into the habit of entertaining “resolution after resolution, sending to Richmond how we are expecting them to vote.”
Supervisor John Coker said a guarantee of equal rights for both sexes “should have been approved 250 years ago, not today, in 2019,” and it’s a “no-brainer.”
“I couldn’t face my mother, I couldn’t face my wife, and I couldn’t face my two daughters if I didn’t believe this was the right thing to do, and I absolutely intend to approve it,” he said, answered by applause from the audience.
Supervisor Oliver Bennett agreed. “I have five daughters. … I want the best and fairest situation for my daughters as I would (want) for other people’s daughters.”
Supervisor David Fauber said he supports equal rights “at face value” but asked if there is anything in the U.S. Constitution that denies those rights.
Bibbins explained that the U.S. Constitution neither denies nor supports equal rights for women and men, therefore, the ERA is needed to guarantee those rights.
County Attorney Beverly Leatherbury added, “Certainly, in principle, it is important that women and all human beings … have equal treatment under the law.”
Coker made the motion to approve the resolution, seconded by Bennett, and it passed unanimously.
The Eastern Shore Post recently conducted a poll about the proposed amendment. To read what readers had to say, see the related story on Page 17.
By Stefanie Jackson