RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- State lawmakers are poised to take a major step toward making Virginia the critical 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Virginia House and Senate, both controlled by Democrats, are expected to advance the gender equality measure in floor votes Wednesday.
The votes will be a momentous symbolic victory for many women's rights advocates and a sign of how much once-solidly conservative Virginia has changed. But at the national level, many questions remain about the fate of the proposed amendment first introduced nearly a century ago.
With Virginia's official sign-off — which will involve additional procedural steps following Wednesday's votes — the state will become the decisive 38th to approve the measure, decades after Congress sent it to the states in 1972.
ERA advocates say hitting the 38 mark means the amendment will have surpassed the three-quarters of states needed to be added to the Constitution.
Opponents disagree. Court battles are expected to unfold over a long-passed 1982 ratification deadline set by Congress as well as moves by five states that ratified it in the 1970s to rescind their support.
Last week, the Justice Department issued an opinion concluding that because the deadline has expired, the ERA is no longer legally pending before the states.
The National Archives and Records Administration, which has a ministerial role in certifying the ratification of constitutional amendments, said in a statement that it would abide by that legal opinion "unless otherwise directed by a final court order."
ERA advocates say the measure would enshrine equality for women in the Constitution, offering stronger protections in sex discrimination cases. They also argue the ERA would give Congress firmer ground to pass anti-discrimination laws.
Opponents warn it would erode commonsense protections for women, such as workplace accommodations during pregnancies. They also worry it would be used by abortion-rights supporters to quash abortion restrictions on the grounds that they specifically discriminate against women.
The measure has passed the Virginia Senate before with bipartisan support but has never made it to the House for a floor vote.
Democrats retook control of both chambers from Republicans in November's elections and say there is unanimous support in both chambers for the ERA.