An effort to ratify the federal Equal Rights Amendment was defeated Thursday by the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates, which blocked the gender equality measure by a single vote.
ERA proponents had hoped Virginia would become the 38th state to approve the amendment. It would have then met the threshold for ratification in the U.S. Constitution.
The failure of a last-ditch effort for approval of the ERA in Virginia evoked frustration and tears in Richmond on Thursday.
Air Force veteran and ERA supporter Daphne Portis shouted at the House floor when lawmakers voted down the measure.
"I defended my country. You should be defending women!" Portis said.
"I'm disgusted by this vote," she continued in the halls of the General Assembly.
"Amen," a woman called out.
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. Supporters like Portis said it's a long-overdue measure needed to provide equal protection to women under the law.
She cried as she left the seat of power in her home state.
"I really, really thought that they were going to pass this thing. I really, really thought, with all my heart. I mean, this is America," Portis said.
ERA activists lobbied lawmakers in Richmond daily. Advocates often packed Capitol hallways to greet lawmakers on their way to the House or Senate chambers. Others staged protests aimed at House Republican leaders, including one that led to a women being arrested and jailed for several days on a charge of indecent exposure.
In the Senate, the measure won bipartisan support. But it hit a dead end in the House, failing to get out of committee. When Democrats sought a rule change to bring it straight to the floor for a vote Thursday, Republicans blocked the move.
"If you say you value women, that you support women, what I say is, prove it," said Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William), in support of the legislation. She added, "I see men that still allow the legacy of fear from opening the doors of opportunity for others. Fear has caused this body to be on the wrong side of history ... too many times and for far too long."
Opponents of the measure said the passage of the ERA could have unintended consequences and open the door to broader access to abortion. Republican House Majority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert said the ERA was being pushed by pro-abortion advocates as a way of gaining "an unfettered right to an abortion, right up until the moment of birth and at taxpayer expense."
"The question here is, shall we go forward with an amendment that so radically ignores an entire segment of the female population? That is, unborn girls," said Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life.
Republicans have a 51-49 advantage in the House. The lone GOP defector on Thursday's vote was Republican Del. David Yancey, whose 2017 re-election race ended in a tie and had to be decided by a random name drawing.
Democrats have made clear that they intend to make the ERA a key issue during this year's legislative elections. All 140 House and Senate seats will be up for grabs in what's expected to be a competitive fight for partisan control of the General Assembly.
"The war begins in November. And we start now," said Lisa Sales of the Virginia Equal Rights Coalition.