WOODSTOCK – A majority of Shenandoah County’s elected leaders hope their endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment spurs state legislators to ratify the proposed law.
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-2 on Tuesday to adopt a resolution of support for the state’s ratification of the amendment. Chairman Conrad Helsley and Supervisors Steve Baker, Dennis Morris and Karl Roulston voted to approve the motion to adopt the resolution. Vice Chairman John R. “Dick” Neese and Supervisor Richard Walker voted against the motion.
Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 and 37 states have since ratified the amendment. Nevada and Illinois ratified the amendment in 2017 and this year, respectively. The amendment needs the approval of 38 states to be incorporated into the U.S. Constitution. A disputed deadline for passage of the amendment expired in June 1982 with 35 of the necessary 38 states having approved it.
“No matter what you think about the ERA amendment, the resolution is basically about timing and I think they’re being protected well enough now,” Neese said. “The time has expired to approve the constitutional amendment and I compare that to a football game when team one has the ball on the 1-yard line, they’re down by 6 points, time runs out, end of game.
“Time has now run out on the amendment,” Neese added. “End of game.”
Roulston said the timing decision rests with Congress, not supervisors. The issue for the county comes down to what citizens believe, he added.
“If the possibility exists for discrimination based on sex, race, whatever, shouldn’t we have legislation to prevent that?” Roulston asked. “Fear-mongering is a strong word, but there’s a lot of stirring the pot up, ‘oh it will change so much’. We don’t know what’s coming … Proud of Mother Virginia. We’ve had equal rights in our legislation for years and we haven’t suffered any of this doom and gloom, cats sleeping with dogs, all of this background noise go on.
“We’ve enjoyed equal rights for women – don’t we believe in that?” Roulston added. “It’s to me not a question of time. It’s like, ‘oh time ran out. You don’t get any rights. You know, silly woman. Rights are for men.’”
Walker said he felt the amendment was “above our pay grade.”
“I, of course do not believe that women should be discriminated against in any way, shape or form,” he said.
Walker explained the board faces deadlines when passing ordinances. If an ordinance doesn’t appear to have enough support, Walker said, the board can’t hold on to the proposal until new members join and provide sufficient backing.
“No law can really make men and women the same and I do think, nowadays, we have some things, these things end up getting used in a way that are contrary to what they say they are,” Walker said. “I don’t want to see a company say, ‘oh, well I can’t give maternity leave to a woman because then I have to give it to a man because of this Equal Rights Amendment.’”
Walker said laws can come with unintended consequences.
“These type of things scare me,” Walker said. “I am in favor of equality. I do believe that there are laws that do provide in the work place, and even there some preference toward women, and I don’t have a problem with that.”
Backers of the resolution collected the signatures of 400 county residents who asked the board to adopt the resolution. At least a few vocal people who did not support the resolution or the Equal Rights Amendment claimed the country didn’t need the proposed law and that the Constitution already protected women’s rights.
The board didn’t hold a public hearing on the resolution. Members heard support and opposition from speakers during the public comment period.
Lee Scharf told the board that 94 percent of Americans support the amendment. However, 80 percent of Americans feel women already have rights and protections equal to men. Sharp said women do not have such rights and protections, at least not yet, and she quoted the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who said the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The issue comes down to whether or not the Constitution prohibits such discrimination, which it does not, Sharp said, noting Scalia’s statement.
“Virginia could once again make history by being the 38th state to ratify the ERA,” Sharp said. “Virginia has long made history by deeming human rights to be self evident; a long history helping our nation build the very cornerstones of our democracy by codifying human rights.”
Walker made an unusual move for a public comment period by asking Sharp a question.
“Can you give me an example of an inequality that exists right now under current law that would be corrected by the ERA?” Walker asked.
Sharp cited a problem with the level of scrutiny in judicial review and noted a case of pay disparity involving Walmart. The burden of proof fell to the person who filed the case instead of the company, Sharp said. Walker interrupted Sharp as she tried to continue her explanation of the case.
“But the fact is that those equal wages for equal work is the law of land as passed by Congress now, so I’m looking for inequality that is not covered under current law,” Walker said.
“Laws and court cases and rights are different things and what we are lacking is equal standing, is rights of protection,” Sharp said. “We are lacking that piece of scrutiny, that level of judicial review, and that means that women have to prove much more than men have to prove to make a claim … The law does not protect us as deeply as it does men in that way.”
Helsley reminded Walker that public comment periods are not held as a forum for dialogue between board members and speakers. County Attorney Jason Ham explained that the board’s rules allow the chairman to entertain questions of members for speakers.
Karen Kwiatkowski, a Republican who has run for the board and Congress, spoke against the resolution, saying that supporters did not collect enough signatures. Kwiatkowski said it’s premature for the board to endorse the resolution. She added that no board member should be accused of not believing in equality for women if they did not support the statement.
“It seems very political to me,” Kwiatkowski said.
Kwiatkowski teaches government at Lord Fairfax Community College and said people don’t understand the Constitution.
“I don’t support this,” Kwiatkowski said. “Born in 1960, I’ve been a total beneficiary of the generations that have come before me and I don’t see a need to change the Constitution. I feel totally protected by the 14th and the 15th (amendments), and the 13th for that matter.”
Kwiatkowski urged the board to find a broader base of support from the community before acting on the resolution.
Dennis Atwood responded to Kwiatkowski.
“I would just put forth the observation: what is it that 37 other states saw that wasn’t needed that caused them to ratify the amendment,” Atwood said.
Helsley entered into the record a letter from Stephen and Kathleen Curtis, of Edinburg, in which they express opposition to the amendment.
State Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Upperville, who represents the 27th District that covers Winchester and Clarke and Frederick County and parts of Culpeper, Fauquier, Loudoun and Stafford counties, said in an email that she has supported the ratification of the amendment each time it came before her.
The resolution urges the Virginia General Assembly to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
“Whereas, the Equal Rights Amendment would provide 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’ and the amendment would help ensure women and men have the same constitutional protections,” the resolution states.
Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 and 37 states have since ratified the amendment. Nevada and Illinois ratified the amendment in 2017 and this year, respectively.