Why the fight for gender equality in Maine is not likely to end soon

Gender equality is up for debate again in the Legislature and again, it could face a rocky road. On Thursday, the House passed a resolution that could lead to a change in the Maine Constitution guaranteeing equal rights between the genders, but only by a slim 78-65 margin.

The vote was purely partisan, with all of the Democrats and the House’s three independents voting for the measure and all the Republicans voting against it. Many Republicans believe there are already enough protections in the U.S. Constitution.

“As a woman I stand opposed to the pending motion,” said Rep. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, during House debate Thursday afternoon, “and I joyfully celebrate the laws that are already in place to protect my rights.”

Among those is the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Equal gender rights is a fight that has simmered for more than a century in the United States, and there has obviously been a lot of progress. Ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 ensured that women could vote, but it is still a reality that in many sectors, women are paid less than men for the same work and, of course, there are vast inequalities in the number of female business leaders and government officials.

The equal rights amendment under consideration in Maine, according to supporters, would strengthen education and employment laws, give women equal footing in divorce settlements and on a broader and more basic level, state clearly that women are equal citizens deserving of equality under the law.

So why is it so difficult? There is a lot of opposition.

An effort to amend the U.S. Constitution failed during the women’s rights resurgence of the late 1960s and 1970s. In 1984, the fight came to Maine. The Legislature sent a question to referendum that would have overridden state and local discrimination based on sex in Article 1 of the Maine Constitution. Among some 530,000 votes cast, 63 percent rejected the proposal.

Twenty-three other states have an equal rights amendment in their state constitutions but it doesn’t look like Maine will become the 24th, at least not this year. Sending a question to referendum requires two-thirds support in the Legislature.

This measure is due for debate and votes in the Senate but Thursday’s House vote probably means women will have to continue the fight, just as their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers did. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Hedgehogs are now legal to own as pets in Maine. A push from Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, to allow hedgehogs to be owned as pets without a licenses ended earlier this week in a committee after the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife added them to a list of allowable pets. Brakey submitted a bill on behalf a sixth-grader in Mechanic Falls who wanted one. That kid got results. What have you done today? Here’s your soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd
  • Maine’s Janet Mills joined a call from 20 attorneys general for a special prosecutor to investigate Russian influence in the 2016 election. It came in a letter to the Department of Justice from Democratic attorneys general led by Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, according to CBS News. The push comes after President Donald Trump’s Tuesday firing of FBI Director James Comey during an FBI investigation of potential collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign. — Michael Shepherd
  • Former Maine prisons chief Joseph Ponte is expected to resign from his New York City jobs today because of his trips to Maine. Sources tell the New York Post that Ponte will step down amid a scandal after a city investigation found that he used a taxpayer-provided vehicle outside the state for a quarter of the year, mostly for trips to his Wiscasset home. Mayor Bill de Blasio has defended him, saying he will pay back the mileage. Ponte took his current job in 2014 after serving as Gov. Paul LePage’s corrections commissioner since 2011. Here, he got strong reviews from advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union for reducing the number of state prisoners in solitary confinement. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

The Legislature is out on Friday. After telling you how busy legislative committees have been for weeks, we’re happy to report that Friday’s schedule is light as lawmakers aim to mostly wrap up committee work this week and get bills to the floor for final votes.

That means the action will shift more to the House of Representatives and Senate next week, with the Legislature meeting three times on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday instead of the twice-weekly schedule they’ve held to so far this year.

  • The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee will take public comment this morning on retail cultivation limitations. The Legislature already delayed parts of the voter-approved legalization law, giving itself until February of 2018 to draft rules for retail sale.
  • The Criminal Justice and Public Safety is busy, with 13 bills up for work sessions. Several could face votes, including the heavily lobbied bill from Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, to enshrine a “victims’ bill of rights” in the Maine Constitution that mirrors provisions of existing state law. It’s part of a national push for similar laws in several states.

The rest of the committee schedule can be viewed here. — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

No, dad, it’s NOT a penguin

I was reading about where animals live with my 6-year-old last night and got through “some animals live in the snow and ice” and a photo of a penguin unscathed. Then the conflict began a few pages later.

“Daddy, have you heard of a pangolin?”

“I think you mean penguin, buddy.”

“No, pangolin.”

“There’s no such thing. It’s PEN-GUIN.” His pronunciation on some words is still a little suspect.

“Say it after me,” he said. “Peng. Oh. Lin.”

“I can say but it’s not an animal.”

He went and grabbed his mother’s phone and told Google, “show me a pangolin.”

“Here it is,” he said.

I’m eating humble pie. Not only are there pangolins, but they’re terrifying! I thought the dinosaurs were dead!

Later on his writing homework I was able to delete an unneeded apostrophe, but it didn’t put us on an even keel. There’s always sixth-grade math for me to grapple with. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.