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Women are not guaranteed equal rights under the United States Constitution. Nearly 50 years ago, Congress passed an Equal Rights Amendment trying to do that. But Congress needed 38 states to ratify it. Since then, there have only been 37. This week, a group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers is wrapping up a bus tour of Virginia, trying to build support for their state to be that 38th and final vote. Here's Whitney Evans of member station WCVE in Richmond.
WHITNEY EVANS, BYLINE: Over time, landmark court rulings and laws have allowed women to vote, make decisions about their reproductive health and, to some degree, receive equal pay for equal work. But Virginia delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy says laws can change, and court rulings can be reversed.
JENNIFER CARROLL FOY: What we are talking about is giving those things teeth.
EVANS: Foy was speaking to a crowd at George Mason University last week during a 10-day bus tour and campaign to make Virginia the 38th and last state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
FOY: We have been on the wrong side of history too long. We have fought against desegregation. We have fought against interracial marriage. We have fought against women's right to vote.
EVANS: Foy, a Democrat, is sponsoring the resolution in Virginia's upcoming legislative session.
FOY: Are you with me?
EVANS: Last session, a group of primarily Democratic lawmakers tried to ratify the amendment, but it didn't even make it to a vote. Now, there's growing Republican support and more energy around the ratification than ever before. GOP State Senator Glen Sturtevant is the Senate co-sponsor. Today, he closed out the Virginia campaign to ratify the ERA. He says this is no longer a partisan issue.
GLEN STURTEVANT: We are the birthplace of the Bill of Rights. But we need to continue and make sure that we include this fundamental American value, which is equality of everyone before the law in the U.S. Constitution.
EVANS: Some legal experts say an Equal Rights Amendment will give women a better chance at winning discrimination cases in court. Richmond attorney Patricia Wallace says it will also be easier to strike down questionable state laws, like one in North Carolina that says it's not legally rape if a woman agrees to have sex, then changes her mind.
PATRICIA WALLACE: There are various little statutes around the country that do things like that, where there's a disparate treatment of men and women.
EVANS: Wallace says it could also enshrine the Obama-era policy that allows women to be in active military combat. In Virginia, the Equal Rights Amendment has bipartisan support, but it's still a hard sell for some conservatives. They fear it's disguised as a vehicle to expand abortion rights and will force women to be drafted into the military.
VICTORIA COBB: Our concern is that people don't understand what it actually does.
EVANS: Victoria Cobb is president of the conservative group Family Foundation of Virginia.
COBB: We should be able to embrace a society that can have equal respect and dignity and pay for women without everything between men and women having to be the same. So my daughter should not have to be drafted into military combat to ensure that she can be paid, equally.
EVANS: Proponents say Congress already has the authority to include women in the draft should it be reinstated. The most prevalent argument against the ERA is a lot more logistic than ideological. The deadline to ratify the amendment passed decades ago. But supporters are confident Congress can extend or even rescind that deadline, which it did once already in the 1970s. But that's a fight for another day.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) ERA.
EVANS: Today, as many lawmakers tour the state, some Virginians are celebrating the possibility that the Commonwealth can, once again, make history. And they're basking in that increasingly rare phenomenon called common ground.
For NPR News, I'm Whitney Evans in Richmond.
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