AUGUSTA, Maine — Gender equality is up for debate again in the Legislature and again, it could face a rocky road. On Thursday, the House passed a resolution that could lead to a change in the Maine Constitution guaranteeing equal rights between the genders but only by a slim 78-65 margin.
The vote was purely partisan, with all of the Democrats and the House’s three independents voting for the measure and all the Republicans voting against it. Many Republicans believe there already are enough protections in the U.S. Constitution.
“As a woman, I stand opposed to the pending motion,” Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, said during House debate Thursday afternoon, “and I joyfully celebrate the laws that are already in place to protect my rights.”
Among those is the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Equal gender rights is a fight that has simmered for more than a century in the United States, and there has obviously been a lot of progress. Ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 ensured that women could vote, but it is still a reality that in many sectors, women are paid less than men for the same work and, of course, there are vast inequalities in the number of female business leaders and government officials.
The equal rights amendment under consideration in Maine, according to supporters, would strengthen education and employment laws, give women equal footing in divorce settlements and specify that women are equal citizens deserving of equality under the law.
So why is it so difficult? There is a lot of opposition.
An effort to amend the U.S. Constitution failed during the women’s rights resurgence of the late 1960s and 1970s. In 1984, the fight came to Maine. The Legislature sent a question to referendum that would have overridden state and local discrimination based on sex in Article 1 of the Maine Constitution. Among some 530,000 votes cast, 63 percent rejected the proposal.
Twenty-three other states have an equal rights amendment in their state constitutions, but it doesn’t look like Maine will become the 24th — at least not this year. Sending a question to referendum requires two-thirds support in the Legislature.
This measure is due for debate and votes in the Senate, but Thursday’s House vote probably means women will have to continue the fight, just as their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers did.
This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.