AUGUSTA, Maine — Republicans in the House of Representatives voted Tuesday to turn back a measure for the second time in just over two years that would have Maine follow more than 20 other states to pass a constitutional ban on sex-based discrimination.
The push from Rep. Lois Reckitt, D-South Portland, is supported by Gov. Janet Mills and has long been a priority for Democrats who lead the Legislature, but the constitutional amendment required two-thirds support in both chambers to go before voters in November.
Federal civil rights laws prohibit sex-based discrimination. Maine and most other states have similar laws. Parts of the U.S. Constitution — including the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment — have been extended by federal courts to apply to women as well. While women receive a higher share college degrees than men, they are still paid less on average.
The bill is largely aimed at supplanting the Equal Rights Amendment, which was passed by the U.S. Senate and sent to states for ratification in 1972, when it enjoyed bipartisan support. Maine and 33 other states voted to ratify it by 1975, but not enough states approved it by a deadline amid a mobilization effort against it from Phyllis Schlafly, the late conservative activist.
The measure advanced on Tuesday in a 87-54 vote and it faces further action in both chambers, but no Republicans supported it, leaving it seven votes short of the necessary two-thirds majority needed to pass it in a later vote. Republicans blocked a similar effort in 2017.
Several Republican women gave floor speeches on Tuesday against the bill, with many noting that Maine has its first female governor and a record number of women serving in the Legislature, including more than half of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.
“It seems to me that the society is turning away from patriarchy,” said Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick.
The bill was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the League of Women Voters, with its backers saying it would give women a higher degree of protection. In testimony, Mills said women should be “fully protected in our most sacred document.”
“Of course, statutes provide us with legal protection, but statutes can be repealed, they can be not enforced and they can be weakened by regulations or simply not renewed,” said Rep. Victoria Morales, D-South Portland.
Underlying the conservative opposition to the bill were arguments advanced by anti-abortion groups, including the Christian Civic League of Maine and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. The former group tesified that “has everything to do with abortion” and could be interpreted by courts as enshrining a right to “taxpayer-funded abortions.”
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