The effort to add an equal rights amendment to the state Constitution is still alive, but its prospects dimmed after a vote in the Maine House of Representatives on Wednesday showed Republicans are staunchly lined up against the anti-discrimination measure.

Support from Democrats secured an 80-57 vote in favor of the bill Wednesday in the first House vote. But Democrats will have to persuade some Republicans to join them in future votes to secure the two-thirds of the members present that is required to put the amendment on the ballot for voter approval. The bill also must receive two-thirds support in the Senate.

Sponsor Rep. Lois Reckitt, D-South Portland, believes some of the 11 representatives who missed Wednesday’s vote will help her make up ground in future House votes on the matter. But she knows she’ll also need to flip some lawmakers before a vote to enact comes up later this session.

“It’s been 37 years since we put this question to voters,” said Reckitt, who has been an ERA advocate for 50 years. “That’s two generations of voters who have not had their say. Don’t forget, it’s an election year. I fully intend to tell anyone who wants to know who voted against equality.”

Picking up the votes may prove difficult.

On Wednesday, during the first of what would have to be several votes on the matter before it could reach the ballot, every Republican representative in attendance voted against the bill, L.D. 344. Seven of the 11 lawmakers absent from the House vote Wednesday are Republicans.


Republican women who spoke against the bill argued it was redundant, saying it offers similar protections as existing state and federal statutes. They said Maine women are well represented in both the workplace and political office, and that the bill makes Maine women appear weak and in need of protection.

“We don’t need this bill,” said Rep. Mary Anne Kinney, R-Knox. “Women are thriving in Maine.”

People mill around at the Maine State House in 2021. Democrats will have to persuade some Republicans to join them to secure the two-thirds majority required to put an equal rights amendment on the ballot for voter approval. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Maine has one of the smallest wage gaps in the nation, Kinney said. The number of Maine women joining the workforce is growing. Forty-three percent of managerial and professional positions are held by women, she said. Almost a third of businesses are owned by women.

“It is important to look beyond the raw numbers,” said Kinney, a former long-haul trucker. “Women often choose less demanding jobs. It is a choice that families make. It has nothing to do with employers or laws.”

Republican women also warned that the amendment would unintentionally harm both men and women.

Mandatory gender equality could mean that women would pay higher car and life insurance rates, Republican supporters said. It could lead to integrated bathrooms and prisons, and force men and women to share rooms in nursing homes and hospitals, they said.


Some warned the bill would promote abortion by mandating support for women’s reproductive rights.

Reckitt dismissed many of those concerns as ridiculous. None of the 26 states that has written gender equality into its constitution is forcing Catholic churches to install female priests or running unisex prison cells, Reckitt said.

While the bill is not dead – Democrats say they will continue to work it – there doesn’t seem to be a clear way to get the proposal on the ballot unless some Republicans relent. The Senate will likely take up the bill for the first time next week.

In 2019, a similar equal rights amendment, also introduced by Reckitt, passed in the Senate but fell two votes shy of the two-thirds majority threshold in the House. There has been turnover since then on both sides of the aisle, but Republicans have picked up eight seats in the House.

An explicit prohibition on sex discrimination is not contained in either the U.S. or state constitutions, although anti-discrimination laws have been passed both federally and at the state level. Supporters argue that laws are much easier to roll back than constitutional freedoms.

The proposal has inspired robust public testimony, both in writing and in person. The Judiciary Committee, which approved Reckitt’s bill 7-5 last month, received nearly 200 written comments and a public hearing last week included 3½ hours of testimony.

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