The last time an equal rights measure came up for a vote, the state Senate was its biggest legislative cheerleader, but support for the decades-long effort to add a gender equality amendment to the state Constitution has faded in the chamber since then.

On Wednesday, the Senate supported the bill, 22-12, but fell a vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed in future votes to put the constitutional question on a statewide ballot. In its last ERA vote, in 2019, the Senate exceeded the supermajority threshold by two votes.

The bill isn’t dead this time around, but its future is grim unless supporters can flip a few votes.

“To say that I’m deeply disappointed in today’s vote would be an understatement,” said Senate President Troy Jackson after the vote. “The fact that we even had to debate this issue in the Senate chamber makes it abundantly clear that this amendment is sorely needed.”

The bill met a similar fate in the House last week, which voted 80-57 in favor of the measure – 11 votes shy of a supermajority. To get on the ballot, the bill would need two-thirds support by members present in both chambers in upcoming enactment votes.

The vote was split along party lines in both chambers, with Democrats voting in favor and Republicans voting against. Only one member voted against their party – Sen. Kim Rosen, R-Hancock. On Wednesday, the 16-year lawmaker was one of the first to cast her vote.


It was the second time Rosen has supported an ERA bill sponsored by Rep. Lois Reckitt, D-South Portland.

“I feel strongly about this, and have great respect for Lois, so I didn’t hesitate,” Rosen said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m one of those politicians who doesn’t say a lot, but when I do, I mean it. I don’t scare easy, either. I respect my constituents, but I vote my heart.”

Republicans who spoke against the bill argued it would be redundant, offering similar protections as existing state and federal statutes. They said Maine women are well represented in both the workplace and political office, and the time for an equal rights amendment has passed.

“When my (grandmothers) turned 21, they were not allowed to vote, they did not have equal rights, but things have changed,” said Sen. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn. “Today I speak as a powerful and confident woman in opposition to L.D. 344.”

Republican opponents also warned the amendment could unintentionally harm women by forcing integration of women-only spaces, from hospital rooms to athletic locker rooms to prisons, and that it could promote abortion by mandating support for women’s reproductive rights.

“While I support equal rights, I am concerned about the unintended consequences,” Guerin said. “In Maine, men and women are equal under the law but should not be viewed as identical or interchangeable … our culture can and must see the biological and very real differences.”

While the bill is not dead – Democrats say they will continue to work on it – there doesn’t seem to be a clear path to get the proposal on the ballot unless Republicans change their minds. House Democrats will likely want time to lobby before taking the final vote on the measure.

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