The Maine House of Representatives will soon vote on an Equal Rights Amendment to the Maine Constitution. Twenty-three states have equal rights language in their constitutions, but Maine is not one of them.

If you think American men need their rights protected under the law, they are. If you think American women have those same protected rights, you are mistaken. They do not. The U.S. Constitution and the Maine Constitution were written to protect the rights of men. They do not specify rights for women other than the right to vote. Equal rights for women are not specifically protected in either our state or U.S. constitutions.

A proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Maine Constitution, LD 197, narrowly passed in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee in a party-line vote. The Maine House of Representatives will vote on the bill as early as May 10.

The inspiring language in the Maine Constitution, stating the equality of its people, was clearly directed at its (white) men, as rights for women, such as the right to vote, came by amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As long as we have a judicial system in which laws are based on the literal and intended meaning of the Constitution, women are not protected as they should be.

The wording of the proposed amendment to the Maine Constitution is: “Equality of rights under the law may not be denied or abridged based on the sex of an individual.”

Do we really need equal rights language because we already have the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? What is clear from the past is that the 14th Amendment has not been effective in protecting women from sex discrimination. It was passed in 1868, to give rights to recently-freed slave men. In a literal interpretation of the Constitution, the 14th Amendment was never intended to address sex discrimination, and it doesn’t.

There have been many laws passed to address gender discrimination. They are a patchwork, they are incomplete, and they place an enormous burden of proof on the women they are supposed to protect. If we believe equal rights for women are a matter of respect that should not be left to the politics of the changing legislatures, and that they belong at the core of our democracy, then we need to update the Maine Constitution.

Issues about who uses which bathroom, whether women should fight in battle, who we love and marry, who belongs at home with the children, and who should make decisions about family planning and health care are a sideshow. Who would vote against this bill and why? Businesses profiting from unfair lower wages, insurance interests, religious interests, political interests? What about the interests of half our country, the women and girls?

Our elected representatives need to hear from the people of Maine. Republican legislators are being heavily lobbied to hold party lines and not join Democrats and independents on this sensible, nonpartisan issue. Call your representatives and senators and tell them who you are, where you live and that women should have the respect of being protected by the Maine Constitution. Speak up.

Nancy Murdock is a founding member of Equal Rights Maine. She lives in Brooklin.