Part 1: Virginia could become final vote for ERA

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- The bid to make Virginia the 38th and final state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment was stopped short Tuesday in the state House of Delegates.

A House subcommittee killed the amendment, but it still has a chance to be resurrected.

The Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, has been on the brink of ratification for months and all eyes are on Virginia.

"I think many Americans think that an Equal Rights Amendment already exists, but it, in fact, does not," said University of Virginia Assistant Professor of History, Sarah Milov.

She said the history of the ERA began in 1923 when it was first proposed by activist Alice Paul, who helped win the women's right to vote.

"Part of Paul's idea was that in order to secure full equality for women, you needed more than just access to the ballot box. Women needed a formal amendment to make sure that their rights would be protected," Milov said.

Paul introduced the first versions of the amendment, which would guarantee women equal rights under the law.

"The U.S. Constitution is the bedrock for all laws in our country," said Charlotte Gibson, President of Charlottesville National Organization for Women.

There were many efforts to get it passed throughout the 1900s, but it did not gain real momentum until 1972, when both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed the amendment and sent it to the states for ratification.

"You need three-fourths of state legislatures to ratify. So, today we have 50 states, so you need 38," said Saikrishna Prakash, James Monroe Professor of Law at UVA.

By 1977, 35 states ratified. Virginia was not one of them.

"It was introduced in Virginia by a delegate from Fairfax, but in 1973, couldn't make it out of committee," Milov said.

That proved to be part of a trend in the United States.

"It's very telling that the 15 states that did not quickly ratify the ERA were largely states of the former Confederacy, and also Mormon states," said Milov.

She said one of the barriers that caused the ERA to fail was the opposing movement that formed, STOP ERA, led by Phyllis Schlafly.

"In that acronym, you can hear the basis of her argument. Women didn't want equality because what they already enjoyed in society was a position of privilege," Milov said.

However, in recent years, there has been a bigger push to finally get the ERA ratified.

Nevada ratified it in 2017 and Illinois in 2018, which means only one more state is needed.

All eyes are now on Virginia.

"It's considered the next most likely, the next most probable state to ratify," said Gibson.

There is still a chance the ERA could make it to the House of Delegates' floor on Friday.

If Virginia does become the 38th state, there is a lot that is still unknown.

Part two of this three-part series will air on CBS19 on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

It will give a closer look into the views of those who both support and oppose the ratification of the ERA.

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