With Virginia’s annual legislative session just around the corner, starting Wednesday, local lawmakers are considering their stance on the Equal Rights Amendment.
Some lawmakers are urging Virginia to become the 38th state to approve the gender equality amendment, which would outlaw discrimination based on gender.
If Virginia approves the amendment, it would move the Equal Rights Amendment across the threshold needed for ratification — although further court evaluation may be needed to determine whether it can officially go into the Constitution.
On Tuesday, the James City County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of a resolution expressing support for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment by the Virginia General Assembly in its 2019 session. The resolution will become a part of the board’s annual legislative agenda.
Supervisors John McGlennon, Ruth Larson and Jim Icenhour voted in favor, while Michael Hipple and Sue Sadler voted in opposition.
“The citizens of James City County clearly voiced their support for this particular action,” McGlennon said.
The resolution gained its fair share of both support and opposition during the public comment period Tuesday, which attracted at least 10 speakers.
“The commonwealth should not ratify the Equal Rights Amendment simply to have that distinction (as the needed 38th state for ratification),” said Mary Schilling, president of the Williamsburg area League of Women Voters. “We should ratify the Equal Rights Amendment because of what it will do for fairness and justice in our society.”
Other speakers suggested the Equal Rights Amendment is now a moot point because the period for ratification is past its deadline.
“It has nothing to do with what’s going on in James City County,” resident Jay Everson said. “The idea that you could pass it and all of a sudden you have your 38th state is not really accurate.”
Hipple and Sadler suggested the Equal Rights Amendment was out of the local government’s wheelhouse. Both said the issue should be addressed by the General Assembly and federal legislature.
“There are levels above me that are going to make this decision,” Hipple said. “I’m the guy on the ground level making sure y’all have everything and the schools have everything we need in James City County.”
Icenhour cast the deciding vote, saying he looked at the issue from a perspective of what he felt was right for the majority of the county’s residents.
“And a majority of our citizens are women, so I will be supporting it this evening,” Icenhour said.
In neighboring localities, local officials have not publicly addressed the Equal Rights Amendment.
In Williamsburg, City Manager Andrew Trivette said the city had received one request from a resident asking City Council to support the amendment.
As of Monday, there were no ERA-related items on any City Council agenda, Trivette said.
York County spokeswoman Gail Whittaker said York County also does not have any upcoming ERA-related items on its Board of Supervisors agenda.
In nearby Newport News, council members also voted on an ERA-related resolution of support in December, striking down the issue with a 4-3 vote, according to draft meeting minutes from Dec. 11.
Some council members said the resolution was introduced earlier than they anticipated, not giving them time to consider the matter thoroughly. The four female council members voted against the resolution, while the three remaining members voted in favor.
At least once councilwoman said she “would not vote on an issue without adequate time to review the material and to have questions answered,” according to the minutes.
The matter again went front of the Newport News City Council Tuesday night.
Upon reconsideration, the council voted 5-2 in favor of the resolution.