On Thursday, March 7, the Maine Legislature held a public hearing about an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to be adopted into the state constitution.
The movement for the ERA has had a long and contentious history. The original idea to change the constitution in order to secure equal rights regardless of sex was sparked in 1923 by the Women’s Rights Movement, but it did not gain substantial support until the late 1960s.
The bill to adopt the ERA into the United States Constitution had bipartisan support in 1972 and passed in the Senate. It failed, however, when it missed the deadline in getting the necessary signatures by states in order for it to be ratified as an amendment by 1982.
The movement lost its traction and disappeared from the spotlight but now is making a comeback in many states, including Maine.
Some argue that the 14th and 19th amendments already offer protection from discrimination on the basis of sex. However, ERA advocates say that these amendments do not offer such protections.
The 14th amendment protects discrimination based on race and the 19th gives women the right to vote.
If enacted, the Maine Constitution would read under Article 1, Section 25: “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. The Legislature has the power to enforce this section by appropriate legislation.”
Representative Lois Reckitt, of South Portland, introduced the bill to the Maine House of Representatives. Reckitt is a dedicated advocate for women and families across Maine and is a member of the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame. More than 100 legislators are co-sponsoring the bill.
With the #MeToo movement and countless women running and winning positions in office, many advocates for the ERA see now as the perfect time to pass the amendment.
“The Equal Rights Amendment is a long overdue measure intended to protect all people from sex discrimination,” the Maine Women’s Lobby stated in a public statement. “Unending gratitude to Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, a founder of the Maine Women’s Lobby, for leading the charge toward finally passing the ERA here in Maine.”
Though college-age feminists are strong advocates for equal rights, the ERA is not a strong focus.
“When I consider the passing of ERA I have to ask: who is this protecting and who is it excluding? How are trans and non binary folks represented in the language and prosecution of this amendment?” Ashlee Atchinson, a fourth-year women’s, gender and sexuality studies and child development and family relations student, said. “I think younger folks are interested in activism that will uplift as many marginalized voices as possible, like working towards VAWA ratification or ending the Gag Rule. While the contents of the ERA are important for women it needs to widen its scope to include all those who are [affected].”
If passed, Maine would become the 26th state to pass an ERA into its constitution.