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Maine Considers Equal Rights Amendment To The State Constitution

Robert F. Bukaty
AP Photo
Gov. Janet Mills on Feb. 26 - Mills testified before the legislature's Judiciary Committee in favor of the measure

Maine lawmakers are considering a proposal that would add an Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution.

Gov. Janet Mills supports the measure, and was among those who testified before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. But opponents are raising arguments that the amendment could have unintended consequences.

The proposed amendment is worded to prohibit discrimination based on sex.

State Rep. Lois Reckitt, a Democrat from South Portland, is the sponsor.

“Twenty-four states have state constitutional amendments explicitly banning sex discrimination,” Reckitt said. “Eight of those states have wording exactly as I am proposing for Maine today.”

Reckitt says that while the same protections are established in state law, laws can be changed by the legislature or by citizen initiative. A constitutional change, however, requires not only two-thirds vote of each branch of the legislature, but voter approval as well. Among the supporters of the measure is Governor Mills, who told lawmakers that the time has come to add these protections to the state constitution.

“I cannot wait to accompany the five adult women whom I proudly call my daughters, and my two little granddaughters, to a voting booth in the fall so that they and their uncles, cousins and friends will be protected in our most sacred document,” Mills said.

Maine did ratify thefederal Equal Rights Amendment, but it never took effect because not enough states followed suit within the time limit established by Congress. Efforts to push another federal amendment have stalled, and that has prompted several states to adopt their own state amendments.

Reckitt’s proposal drew support from several lawmakers at the hearing, but opponents, including Maine Sen. Scott Cyrway, a Republican from Benton, warned that it might result in unintended consequences, such as the abolition of sex specific bathrooms.

Others raised fears that it would open the door for arguments that the state should pay for abortions. Mike McClellan opposed the amendment on behalf of the Maine Christian Civic League.

“To be blunt, I guess, this year one of our bigger concerns is where we think bills have abortion funding buried in it,” McClellan said.

Supporters of the amendment dismiss that argument, but it could make it more difficult for the proposal to garner the two-thirds support it needs in the legislature to make it to the ballot box.

Originally posted March 7, 2019 5:17 p.m.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.