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Jane Materna (center) of Falls Church joined in a rally at the Capitol on Monday to advocate for Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Virginia first lady Pam Northam and former first lady Anne Holton spoke at the event, which also marked the 99th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

Two Virginia first ladies on Monday urged the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment during an event marking the 99th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which secured women’s right to vote.

Virginia first lady Pam Northam and former first lady Anne Holton spoke on the steps of the state Capitol during the launch of an election season campaign by VA Ratify ERA and Equal Means Equal, which will advocate for General Assembly candidates who pledge support for ratification.

The ratification will likely be on Democrats’ agenda if they take control of the state House and Senate. Every seat in the General Assembly is up for election in November.

“They were not given the right to vote, they fought for it,” Northam said of the suffrage activists who fought for the passage of the amendment. “And we must remember that as we work this November to elect those that will work to ensure Virginia is the 38th state to ratify.”

ERA supporters argue that the proposed federal amendment could lead to stronger anti-discrimination laws from Congress and states, and support ongoing lawsuits grounded in sex discrimination claims.

Congress approved the ERA in 1972, but it has yet to clear a second constitutional hurdle: approval by three-quarters of states. It needed backing by legislatures in 38 of the 50 states to be added to the Constitution. It was three states short as of a 1982 deadline set by Congress. Virginia was one of 15 states that did not ratify it by the deadline.

“This effort started in Virginia back when my dad was governor ... almost 50 years ago,” said Holton, whose father, Linwood Holton, served as governor from 1970 to 1974.

“It’s time to recognize that equal means equal,” said Holton, a former Richmond juvenile court judge and state secretary of education who is now interim president of George Mason University.

During the 2019 legislative session, the Virginia Senate voted 26-14 to pass a resolution for Virginia to ratify the amendment. But it died in a state House subcommittee on a 4-2 vote and did not make it onto the House floor despite rule-change attempts by some Democrats.

The “I Scream for Equality” campaign launched Monday will pitch support for the ERA and pro-ERA candidates on college campuses, baiting students using ERA-branded ice-cream trucks.

The proposed federal amendment reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” It provides that Congress shall have the power to enforce its provisions by “appropriate legislation.”

ERA supporters argue that if Virginia votes to ratify the amendment, it would be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, while opponents say that the deadline has long expired, making any ratification moot.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday signed a proclamation in support of the ERA, declaring Aug. 26 Women’s Equality Day. The administration marked the occasion and the 19th Amendment’s anniversary this weekend by lighting the outside of the Executive Mansion with purple, gold and white lights.

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mleonor@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6254

Twitter: @MelLeonor_

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