Equal rights amendment gets 1st vote in Maine Legislature

(AP) — A proposed equal rights amendment in Maine enjoys broad support from Democratic lawmakers and the governor, but it failed Wednesday to obtain a two-thirds majority in its first vote in the House.

The Maine House voted 80-57 along party lines in favor of amending the Maine Constitution to prohibit discrimination based on gender. It now goes to the Maine Senate for a vote.

Both chambers would have to approve the measure by two-thirds majorities to send the amendment to a statewide vote to be ratified.

In the House, supporters focused on the need to enshrine gender-based protections in the Maine Constitution.

“This is to prevent discrimination and to give us equality. That’s all that we’re asking for. It’s a right. It’s not a privilege. We are entitled to it,” said Rep. Sophie Warren, D-Scarborough.

But opponents said gains made by women over the years make an amendment unnecessary. They noted that the governor, secretary of state and nine commissioners are women, and voters have sent three women to represent the state in the U.S. Senate.

“This amendment is no longer needed to afford equal opportunity for women,” Rep. Abigail Griffin, R-Levant.

Several Republican opponents spoke about unintended consequences, and others sought to link the issue to abortion. Anti-abortion activists have warned that a constitutional amendment could be used to eliminate abortion restrictions or require taxpayer-funded abortions.

Maine ratified the federal Equal Rights Amendment in 1974, but the national effort failed because it fell short of the 38 states required.

Across the country, 26 other states already have adopted similar state constitutional amendments since then. In Maine, there have been several efforts over the years. In the 1980s, a proposed constitutional amendment made it to a statewide vote, which came up short.

The latest proposal’s sponsor, Rep. Lois Reckitt, D-South Portland, has been advocating for a state equal rights amendment for about five decades. Previous bills she sponsored in 2017 and 2019 failed by six and two votes, respectively, in the Maine House.

Reckitt said she she remains an “optimistic soul” after the vote, and said she hopes Mainers get to have the final say through a referendum. The statewide vote would require a simple majority approval.

“I’m confident that if we can get it to a referendum, we can win,” she said. “My theme this year is, ‘Let the people vote.’”


Sharp reported from Portland.