In 1974, Maine ratified the Equal Rights Amendment with lackluster votes in the House and Senate. It was not a “Dirigo” moment for Maine.

Thirty states ratified the equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution before Maine did, and Maine was the last of the New England states to do so.

At the same time that states were voting on the federal amendment, a number of states adopted state constitution-level equal rights language, including Connecticut and New Hampshire. Massachusetts adopted a state ERA in 1976, and Rhode Island in 1986. So, even though the ERA ultimately failed at the federal level at that time with only 35 of the necessary 38 states approving, 26 states adopted their own language upholding equal rights regardless of gender.

Maine, despite multiple efforts to do so over the years, has not.

Today, the Judiciary Committee will take up consideration of a resolution “Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Explicitly Prohibit Discrimination Based on the Sex of an Individual.” It is presented by Rep. Lois Reckitt, a fierce and accomplished human rights activist and leader, who sits on Judiciary.

Last week, the committee held a public hearing on the resolve and accepted testimony — oral and written — from close to 200 people. All but 25 people testified in support, but let’s call it 22 people because three members of the same family just cut and pasted the same canned opponent language without even bothering to edit “NAME CHANGE” at the top.

Advertisement

Twenty-six lawmakers expressed support for the resolution, as did Gov. Janet Mills, Attorney General Aaron Frey, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, and a number of organizations like Equal Rights Maine, Maine’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, Legal Services for the Elderly, the Maine Nurse Practitioner Association, Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights and Concerned Women of America.

It is time, in the words of men, women and children, old and young, to recognize the equal rights of men and women and amend the state Constitution.

A woman from Fairfield urged passage because “our Constitution does not stipulate equality in gender, and our history has not practiced equality in gender.  . . . Let us make this official and remind our society that people are people in the eyes of our government.”

“It is long overdue to put a legal end to gender discrimination. Like racial discrimination, it is difficult to remove from the misguided human heart, but it must be given the judicial backbone for there to be any progress,” testified a man from New Gloucester.

Rep. Kristen Cloutier of Lewiston noted that 102 years after women won the right to vote, “there is still no constitutional amendment to cement gender equality and equal protection under the law.” She urged passage, saying “this bill simply solidifies gender equality at the highest level and provides a legal roadmap of protections.”

A Brooksville man, who testified that his daughter has experienced discrimination in her professional life, was one among many noting that equal rights protection applies to all genders, to all people. He told the committee: “I want my granddaughters to know that they have equal rights in all settings where they choose to compete.”

Advertisement

Posie Cowan of Equal Rights Maine asserted that equal rights are human rights, and a “Maine ERA would provide the legal backing on issues of gender pay gap, sexual harassment and domestic violence.”

She was not the only person to make those points.

Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said she’s been repeatedly asked why a Maine ERA is necessary given “women have made significant strides over the last several decades,” which is true. Even so, 48 years after Maine ratified the federal ERA, Fortman pointed out, women who work full time, on average, earn roughly 81% of what men earn, and are twice as likely to work part time, lowering their income even more.

There’s nothing equal about that.

As impassioned as the testimony provided by men and women was, perhaps the most direct testimony was provided by 7-year-old Zoe Umphrey of Old Town, who wrote: “I think equal rights amendment is a good movement because it will help girls grow up to be treasured as much as boys. Girls and boys are equal!”

To think that this child lives in a place and at a time where she recognizes girls are not treasured as much as boys is heartrending.

Advertisement

“Laws are only as strong as the Constitution,” testified a man from Brunswick. “Our state Constitution needs to be amended to support women equally.”

And, a young woman in Farmington noted that “it is imperative that we not only make women’s legal equality a constitutionally protected right, but we need to empower oversight that this law is upheld.” She urged the Judiciary Committee to move the resolution forward to the Legislature for passage because the bill “provides the same dignity, inclusion and protection of the law to Maine women as Maine men. To do otherwise is inconceivable.”

To be clear, this resolution will not amend the state Constitution. It is a resolution to take the question of whether Maine should amend its Constitution to voters. To us. For Maine people to decide.

We strongly support giving Maine people the opportunity to decide what they want for themselves and for the people around them. Give them the chance to ensure that the “equality of rights under the law may not be denied or abridged by the state or any political subdivision of the state based on the sex of an individual.”

No matter the gender.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: