State Rep. Susan Austin, R-Gray, wears a face shield as she arrives for a special session of the Legislature at the State House, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2021, in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

AUGUSTA, Maine — Republican women in the Maine House of Representatives led the charge on Wednesday to vote down a Democratic lawmaker’s effort to pass an equal-rights amendment for the third time in the last five years.

The proposed amendment to the Maine Constitution from Rep. Lois Reckitt of South Portland, has been a priority for Democrats for years and is supported by Gov. Janet Mills. But two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers are required to send amendments to Maine voters, so minority Republicans have the power to block the anti-gender discrimination measure.

The bill is aimed at supplanting the Equal Rights Amendment, which was passed by Congress in the 1970s but not ratified amid opposition from conservative activists. While federal laws prohibit sex-based discrimination and Maine is among the vast majority of states with similar laws, supporters argue that protections here should rest in the Constitution.

Reckitt’s bill passed the Democratic-led chamber in an 80-57 vote on Wednesday, falling far short of the two-thirds majority needed to eventually advance from the chamber. While it remains alive while awaiting final action, it has no path to passage as currently drafted. Her last proposal was defeated similarly in 2019.

The measure would make an addition to the Maine Constitution prohibiting the denial of rights based on gender. Religious conservatives have opposed this bill and others like it while citing a concern that judges could interpret it as a further extension of abortion rights.

Republican women led the floor fight against the measure on Wednesday, citing that abortion argument and progress that women have made under current law. Members of the minority party were not swayed by Reckitt’s earlier offer to put other anti-discrimination protections in the Maine Constitution, including those for age, disability, gender identity and more.

“Women are and can continue to thrive in Maine,” said Rep. Susan Austin, R-Gray.

While their measure is on track to fail, Democrats signaled that they will continue to push the amendment. Reckitt implored lawmakers on the floor to simply allow Mainers to vote on the issue and other Democrats said Maine has a long way to go to eradicate discrimination.

“I just want to remind us that this to prevent discrimination and give us equality. This is all we are asking for and I believe it’s a right,” said Rep. Sophie Warren, D-Scarborough. “It’s not a privilege.”

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...