Time. It passes, and so does opportunity.

Chris Babbidge Courtesy photo

The American story is one of evolution, of a path that has generally seen improvement. We celebrate the growth of a strong middle class, of personal opportunity, and of refined clarification and protection of constitutional freedoms. But too many of us believe that the passage of time itself is a healer, that time will continue our society on a positive path without our involvement.

For four decades I taught high schoolers the exploration of history and government. My students had been introduced to America’s attributes in social studies in elementary and middle school. As older teenagers, they revisited the greatness of the American promise while also engaging in a fuller examination of the big issues. Often courageous reformers brought these issues forward. They brought opportunities for Americans to confront the injustice of inequality before the law.

One of several issues I was excited to revisit during the study of each era was the role of women in American society. Throughout the year, covering three centuries of history, I introduced readings by, or about, insightful women, with varying viewpoints, about the role and challenges of their sex. For the girls in my classes, I sometimes worried about being the bearer of bad news regarding the status of their sex in history, even recent history. But the message to all my students, girls and boys, was this: people with courage bring issues forward and provide others with the opportunity to hear, learn, and act to improve society. Injustice within the law prevails when we don’t seize those opportunities.

My colleague in the Maine House, Rep. Lois Reckitt of South Portland, has crafted a proposed amendment to the Maine Constitution to add “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.”

This is an opportunity.

Now, a majority, although slim majority, of states have this constitutional protection. Maine has seen it necessary to amend its constitution 173 times, yet never has protected this equality.

Current interpretation of present law by the courts has addressed some inequalities, but many others remain. If the legislators allow the people to vote, and Mainers vote to approve the amendment, then the courts will regard this equality as a higher standard, with “strict scrutiny” to the facts so that disregard of this fundamental right must be justified by “a compelling state interest.” That’s legal speak to say this is a higher threshold than in current law.

The legal concept of equality of all Maine citizens should and must include, at the highest level, a ban on discrimination that disadvantages someone based on their sex. Reckitt’s proposed resolution would allow Mainers to vote this protection into the state constitution, but in order to get to a vote of the Maine’s people, 101 out of the 151 House members must approve. Without this legislative approval by two-thirds, the people of Maine don’t get to weigh in.

Constitutional equality within state and municipal law is good for all Mainers, but, admittedly, most impactful to 700,000 Mainers who are our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters and granddaughters, as well as those of our neighbors and friends.

This bill gives women the same rights that I have – no more, but importantly, no less. Reckitt can count on my vote, but she needs many more.

Equality of rights regardless of gender. It is time.

Christopher W. Babbidge is representative for Maine House District 8, Kennebunk. He can be reached at [email protected]

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