A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that roughly three in four Americans support the gender equality amendment, which is now back before Congress with Virginia's ratification of the measure in January. Credit: Bob Brown / Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP

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Leda Beth Gray was formerly a geologist for the federal government and now lives and works in Blue Hill.

Maine has a historic opportunity to amend its constitution to give women equal rights, something that should, of course, have been there from the beginning, but equal rights for women wasn’t initially in any state constitution let alone federal. Maine has a bipartisan tradition that continues to this day in some areas of legislation. Maine also has a long history of letting the people decide issues by putting them on the ballot. Let these traditions continue: Let the people decide if they want to give women equal rights.

I was so sure, back in the ’70s, when I was in high school, that the federal Equal Rights Amendment would be ratified soon, in fact, I had no doubt. It was just so obviously the right thing to do! I would have been stunned to know that here in the 2020s women would still be struggling for equal rights, their rights protected only in some areas by a patchwork of laws that could be revoked at any time, still battling to get equal pay for equal work, still suffering sexual harassment and rape without even adequate legal recourse, still suffering domestic abuse and outmoded attitudes that domestic violence is personal business. In fact, I am stunned now, when I think about it very hard! How could this have happened?

One major source of inequality, discrimination, may be unintentional at times. I went on to work as a scientist, and slowly realized that I was on the outside of a “good old boys club” that mentored each other, helped one another progress in their careers, etc. It was just the culture there, as it was in many places.

If there had been an equal rights amendment to the Constitution, they would have been obliged to address the problem of not enough women in the top levels of the organization with good scientific analysis of the issues, and then solutions such as mentorship programs and nondiscriminatory promotion policies.

Maine senators and representatives should think hard about whether they want their daughters and granddaughters, and those of their constituents, to have every opportunity in their chosen fields of work. And perhaps also think about how an ERA would encourage representative numbers of women among them in the future, and how that would be to the benefit of all in the statehouse and in Maine.

The stumbling block right now seems to be the issue of abortion. Anchoring the federal ERA and the Maine ERA to the idea that they would allow abortion is a very real concern for some people, but I believe that well-meaning people are being manipulated to fight against everyone’s own best interests: equal rights regardless of sex!

 Abortion is an issue that should be decided on its own — using it as an excuse to block equal rights for women is wrong. It is time for the Republicans in the Maine State House to buck the polarization of much of the rest of the nation, and make this a bipartisan issue. At the very least they can put the amendment on the ballot and let the people of Maine decide this issue for themselves.