Editor: This year the Virginia General Assembly missed a critical opportunity: to become the 38th and final state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
For years, women from all walks of life have been on the frontlines advocating for this resolution, which would have ensured that gender equality and the rights of women were enshrined within the United States Constitution.
As an attorney, I am dismayed that the Republican-controlled General Assembly missed out on an opportunity to pass a basic constitutional protection for women. And as a democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates in District 87, I am even more committed to show up as an ally and ensure we win the majority in 2019 so that we can avoid continuing on this partisan charade. Any Democrat elected to the General Assembly should be counted on to vote for the ERA, but we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard: we need to be advocates for it, as well.
Men: Confused about the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and why we need it? Walk with me a minute.
The ERA is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that affirms that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Over 70 percent of Americans believe equal rights are already guaranteed to women in the Constitution, the root of our law. They are shocked to learn they aren’t. It wasn’t until 1971 that the Supreme Court even applied the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection to a law that discriminated against women – even then, the standard of review wasn’t as tough as that used to look at race-based laws. Women seeking redress for laws that hurt them are still required to clear insurmountable thresholds of proof.
We’re talking about basic things like equal pay for equal work and protection from domestic violence. We have some tools, like Title IX, that expand protections from women in narrow areas — but they’re not enough. Because our Constitution does not guarantee equality on the basis of sex, we’ve had to fight these inequalities one at a time.
The victories we have won aren’t necessarily secure. A sufficiently conservative Supreme Court, following Justice Scalia’s “originalist” framing, could decide that because the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment weren’t thinking of expanding it to protect the rights of women, modern rulings following that framework should be overturned. The only way to positively secure equality for all under the law is to ensure that the ERA is ratified.
As an attorney, I can’t wait to write a brief and cite to the Constitution to advocate for a female client. Only a few seats keep us Democrats from winning the majority. It is going to take all of us, together, to get us past the finish line. So guys: Show up. Not just because we’re dads to our daughters and sons to our mothers, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Hassan Ahmad, Sterling
[Editor’s Note: Hassan Ahmad is a Democratic candidate for the 87th District seat in the House of Delegates.]