Prince William Board of Supervisors Fails to Support Equal Rights Amendment

| November 25, 2018 | 0 Comments | News

Supervisor Frank Principi defends his resolution at the Nov. 21, 2018 meeting of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.

It was around midnight Tuesday, before the Prince William Board of County Supervisors decided to deny its support to the Virginia General Assembly, regarding passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, otherwise known as the “ERA.”

After hours of citizens’ time, the ERA resolution, made by Woodbridge Supervisor Frank Principi (D) of Woodbridge, failed to receive a second from the board. Instead, supervisors passed a mainly symbolic resolution to protect equal rights within the county as proposed by Brentsville Supervisor Jeanine Lawson (R).

The Equal Rights Amendment is a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Virginia could become the 38th state to support it, which is the key number that was needed to ratify the amendment. It could trigger Congress revisiting the item.

The Equal Rights Amendment states that the U.S. Constitution was designed to provide equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It seeks to end legal distinctions between men and women in terms of divorce, property, employment and other matters.

The amendment was first proposed in the 1920s after women received the right to vote. Congress passed it in 1972, but it failed to receive all the support it needed from the states.

The 1982 deadline was extended, so now Virginia lawmakers feel as though it could be extended once again, and Virginia could be the last state to offer its support.

However, due to the time passed, Congress would again need to approve the amendment, and it is unclear if Congress would even take up the matter or count the states that have already ratified the amendment. Additionally, five states had rescinded their ratification.

Virginia Delegates have brought the issue to the forefront. Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 2nd District, is leading the fight. Del. Hala Ayala (D), of the 51st District, Prince William also pledged her support as well as Del. Luke Torian (D), 52nd District, and Sen. Scott Surovell (D) 36th also of Prince William along with several other members of the Virginia House of Delegates.

While not strictly a Prince William County matter, the board often sends its recommendations to the General Assembly. However, after hours of listening to citizens, the board, consisting mainly of Republicans, did not offer any support for the amendment.

Neabsco Supervisor John Jenkins, a Democrat, was absent, leaving Principi alone in supporting the resolution.

Despite the resolution not receiving a second, supervisors wanted to go on record with their opinions on the matter. All said they whole-heartedly support equal rights for women, but they had concerns about the intentional or unintentional consequences of the amendment especially after hearing from constituents in opposition.

Some believe that an equal rights amendment would open the door for further abortion rights, or limit on the kinds of restrictions government could impose upon pregnant women. Supervisors opposed this from a from a moral and personal standpoints.

Additionally, according to some citizens, the ERA could make a case for women being drafted during times of war, and could affect everything from social security, WIC, alimony, child support, maternity leave, sports teams, bathroom and how women are housed in prison and in domestic abuse and homeless shelters.

Democrats disagreed and believe the opponents are reaching.

“First off, there’s absolutely nothing in this resolution about the legality of abortion or prisons, the integration of prison or bathrooms or the impact on college sports,” Principi told his board, and said Congress always had the power to draft women into service. As a husband and a father of two daughters and representative of women in the county, he said he feels strongly “that gender equality is constitutionally guaranteed and women are afforded the highest level of protection.”

However, supervisors were moved by citizens’ concerns and many reconsidered how they would vote.

The issue most personal to them was the right to life. Supervisors Jeanine Lawson (Brentsville), Ruth Anderson (Occoquan), Marty Nohe (Coles) and Maureen Caddigan (Potomac) said was an important value issue for them.

Nohe said “four days ago, I would have called this a ‘no-brainer,'” but at that time he was not aware of the abortion issue.“Of course we want equal rights, and I believe, like Mr. Principi, we need the concept of equal rights encoded in our Constitution.” However, he said he learned something from the citizen speakers. They “forced me to think about things in a different way.”

He said he is strongly pro-life and strongly in favor of equal rights. He also it is almost a moot point since the General Assembly does not listen to local board of supervisors almost ever.

Supervisor Lawson said she thought the entire proposal was meant to deceive people. “Who wouldn’t want to support equal rights? But guess what; there’s a lot more to this.”

She said NARL and NOW were pushing for the amendment, implying it was really about the prochoice lobby. “Let’s talk about the issues surrounding the ERA. They don’t want to. They want to deceive the public.”

And several supervisors said they were confused as they struggled to understand the ramifications of the amendment.

Chairman Corey Stewart (R) said there is not a lawyer nor legal scholar alive today who knows what the outcomes would be. In his legal opinion, the 5th amendment grants all “persons” “due process” and that is reinforced in the 14th amendment and a multitude of federal, state and local laws.

Gainesville Supervisor Pete Candland said the board shouldn’t make the recommendation because “we don’t have a proper consensus from our constituents,” referencing the split he witnessed during citizens’ time.

Scores of citizens spoke at the Nov. 21 meeting. Approximately 35 people spoke against it, and 25 for it. Candland said when he included emails, it was about equal by his count.

But the two sides interpreted the issue very differently. Supporters presented the amendment as straightforward and offered a narrow interpretation. They said the amendment was relevant. Those against talked about all the possible negative outcomes and said the amendment was redundant.

Proponentsfelt the amendment was necessary since the U.S. Constitution does not provide equal protection to males and females. Current protections could be overturned, they said, barring a woman’s right to vote since that is a constitutional amendment.

They also believed the amendment is still relevant today. Many said there is ample evidence that women still earn less than men in the same position. African Americans talked about civil rights struggles and how women have not had their day.

Lily Jessie, Occoquan representative to the Prince William School Board, shared her experiences during segregation times when her mother, working as a maid, was made to enter through the back door. She said that “we are fooling ourselves” if they think women are now equal.

But, the other side offered various arguments about possible outcomes that could hurt women or society such placing women in danger of being in the same bathrooms and prisons as men or being made to compete on sports teams with men. And, importantly, many pro-life individuals tied the amendment to furthering abortion rights, and espoused upon the evils of abortion, a core belief of the Republican party.

Maureen Caddigan, said being pro-life is reason she is a Republican, and does not care about scoring political points since she won’t be running for reelection.

Lawson offered another motion in place of Principi’s, a resolution that proclaimed that “all persons residing in Prince William County are afforded equal protection according to the law” and no rights should be
“infringed upon” by the county.

The language stated before the “THEREFORE” included a litany of reasons the amendment was not necessary such as prior protections that women receive under the law.

Her motion passed 5-2 with Stewart*, Lawson, Caddigan, Anderson and Candland approving. Nohe and Principi abstained.

Proponents of the ERA who came before the board expressed their disbelief at the way conservatives had interpreted the amendment and the “watered-down version” of a resolution supervisors passed instead.

“Extremists twisted the narrative around the ERA into being about abortion, bathrooms, sports and prisons,” said Kenny Boddye, a Democrat running for the Occoquan seat on the board. “All of us – including Supervisor Principi himself – spoke to the fact that the ERA has nothing to do with those issues, but our county supervisors blatantly ignored us. Instead, they gave space to the most fearful elements of our community.”

Boddye said several localities in Virginia have passed similar resolutions without resistance, even in counties with conservative majorities.


 *In a previous draft we did not include the fact that Stewart supported Lawson’s amendment.

Updated with new information on the process needed to ratify the amendment. 

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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