Efforts to make Virginia the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment encountered a setback Tuesday following a subcommittee vote against several resolutions in the state's Republican-controlled Legislature.
The nation's supporters of the gender-equality amendment have been hoping this increasingly blue state will approve the ERA at a critical moment in their campaign to revive the measure, which is nearly half a century old.
ERA proponents say ratification by 38 states would meet the U.S. Constitution's threshold for approval. But it would also likely spark battles in the courts and Congress over a long-passed 1982 deadline and various other legal issues.
Measures to ratify the ERA in Virginia were voted down in a subcommittee for the House of Delegates' Privileges and Elections Committee. Proponents say there still may be a chance the measure can be voted out of the full committee Friday.
If that happens, ERA supporters say they have the votes in the full House to pass to the resolution. The Senate passed its version last week.
The proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution would outlaw discrimination based on gender, providing Congress with firmer grounding to pass anti-discrimination laws while giving lawsuits more strength in the courts.
Republican Margaret Ransone, the subcommittee's chair, said at Tuesday's hearing that the ERA was "simply not needed" and told young girls in the audience that "you can do anything that you want."
"I don't need words on a piece of paper," Ransone said. "God made us all equal."
Virginia's ERA opponents also cite the 1982 deadline and the fact that five states that ratified it in the 1970s later passed measures to rescind their support.
They've also raised concerns about an amendment being used to remove restrictions on taxpayer-funded abortion.
But ERA supporters, who include Republican lawmakers, labeled such criticisms as "fear mongering."
Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, a Democratic sponsor of one of the ERA measures, told the subcommittee that the amendment would strengthen protections against gender-based discrimination, particularly in court.
"We want sex-discrimination cases to be analyzed in the same way that the courts analyze race, religion and national origin," she said. "It's much more difficult to have state-sanctioned race discrimination than (it is) sex discrimination."
Carroll Foy also pointed to a Christopher Newport University poll released in December that estimates 81 percent of Virginia voters support ratification.
Katherine Jordan, a spokeswoman for the group VAratifyERA, said supporters are now focusing their attention on Friday's hearing before the full Privileges and Elections Committee. She said there's still a chance the measure could be voted out of committee to the House floor.
Such a vote would be a first in Virginia. Since 1973, ERA measures have never passed Virginia's House or even left the Privileges and Elections Committee, according to the House Clerk's office.
"Virginia politics is complicated," Jordan said. "Until the full committee has decided definitively, we will remain hopeful that the will of Virginians still has some sway."
Momentum has been growing in statehouses across the country to revive the original ERA.
Congress had approved the ERA for ratification by the states in 1972. Thirty-five states had ratified it by a final 1982 deadline, leaving the amendment three states short of what was needed.
ERA advocates are now harnessing the energy of the #MeToo movement and concerns about President Donald Trump's policies to push more states to ratify the proposed amendment.
In the last two years, Nevada and Illinois ratified the ERA, bringing the number of states to 37.