U.S.

Equal Rights Amendment Protester Arrested After Exposing Breast While Recreating Virginia State Seal

A woman was arrested Monday for exposing her breast during a piece of performance art that recreated the Virginia state seal.

The woman, identified by the Richmond Times-Dispatch as Michelle Renay Sutherland, and her friend, Natalie White, recreated the Virginia state seal outside the Capitol to advocate for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The seal features the Roman goddess Virtus holding a spear as she stands triumphantly with one foot on a man, representing tyranny.

Sutherland took the position of Virtus and after being given a warning by Capitol Police, she was arrested and charged with indecent exposure for having her breast uncovered.

“The only agenda getting through the House of Delegates matches the so-called Family Foundation’s policy positions,” activist Frances Broaddus-Crutchfield called into a microphone as the women recreated the seal.

A measure that’s nearly half a century old, the Equal Rights Amendment would outlaw discrimination based on gender, according to the Associated Press. Passed already by 37 states, a push has been made to make Virginia the 38th, thereby meeting the threshold to make the amendment part of the United States Constitution.

equal rights amendment virginia state seal A woman hold up a sign as members of Congress and representatives of women's groups hold a rally to mark the 40th anniversary of congressional passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) outside the Capitol on March 22, 2012, in Washington, D.C. A woman was arrested on Monday for exposing her breast in public during a demonstration in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Virginia Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, a supporter of the measure and attorney, argued that it would strengthen cases against gender-based discrimination in court. She added that sex-discrimination cases should be analyzed in the same way that courts look at cases of possible discrimination against a person based on their race, religion or national origin.

However, opponents, including Virginia Delegate Margaret Ransone, said the amendment wasn’t necessary. Others claimed that even if Virginia did ratify the amendment, it wouldn’t matter because the deadline for its ratification has come and gone.

When Congress approved the amendment for ratification in 1972, it gave a seven-year deadline for ratification, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Thirty-five states ratified it by 1977 and Congress issued a deadline extension from 1979 to 1982.

After the deadline passed, members of Congress have introduced new versions of the ERA, as well as, resolutions to reopen ratification, thereby restarting the process. Nevada and Illinois ratified the amendment in 2017 and 2018 respectively, meaning, if their votes to ratify the amendment are valid, the ERA is only one state away from the required 38.

Ratification validation aside, it’s unclear if the amendment will garner the support it needs from a 38th state. In January, a subcommittee for the Virginia House of Delegates’ Privileges and Elections Committee voted against measures to ratify the ERA.

Monday’s demonstration wasn’t the first time advocates have pushed to get the amendment ratified in Virginia and vocalize their support. On Thursday morning, two women, one of whom was identified by the Richmond Times-Dispatch as White, were taken away by Capitol police after staging a “die in” at Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox’s office.

The “die in” was in response to the House of Delegates killing legislation to ratify the ERA, the Associated Press reported. The two women were issued notices barring them from the Capitol office building for six months.

Supporters have also pushed for the amendment to be ratified in other states, including Georgia and Minnesota.

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