On July 11, 2018, Renee Henneberry Clark of Hampden was murdered by her brother-in-law. Renee had been denied a protection order against him because he wasn’t her husband or a household member. So much for equal protection.

Demonstrators march at a Manhattan rally in support of the Equal Rights Amendment on the eve of International Women’s Day 2021. A bill before the Maine Legislature, L.D. 344, would amend the Maine Constitution to prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s sex. Ben Von Klemperer/Shutterstock.com

This is why Maine needs to pass L.D. 344, a bill that, if passed by two-thirds of the Legislature and then approved by voters, would amend the Maine Constitution to prohibit discrimination based on an individual’s sex.

A constitutionally guaranteed amendment specifically prohibiting sex discrimination would have ensured Renee the protection order that might have saved her life. An equal rights amendment would provide constitutional standards against sex discrimination for Maine’s judicial and law enforcement systems. It would deter those who previously may have failed to apply or enforce existing laws.

Almost half the homicides in Maine are still caused by domestic violence, and 82 percent of domestic violence is committed against women. Sixty-five percent of all murder-suicides involve an intimate partner, and 96 percent of those victims are female.

Mothers. Daughters. Grandmothers. Infant baby girls. These are the victims.

Many will argue that the equal protection clause in the Maine Constitution, along with the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, provide adequate legal protection against discrimination based on sex. While Maine’s equal protection verbiage closely mirrors the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, both the Maine and U.S. constitutions fail to include language that specifically references discrimination based on sex. Both constitutions have failed time and again in the courts to provide equal protection for women, especially in cases of domestic and sexual violence.


So what of the Violence Against Women Act? Acts and other legislation not codified in the U.S. Constitution are vulnerable to defunding, expiration or even
replacement by Congress, in addition to legal challenges. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, in United States v. Morrison, declared the civil rights remedy under VAWA to be unconstitutional.

VAWA failed to protect the rape victim in this case. The majority rejected the civil rights remedy on the grounds that because domestic violence crimes are not themselves “economic” in nature, Congress could not claim power over the Commerce Clause, under which VAWA is regulated.

VAWA is also subject to reauthorization by Congress every five years, which leaves it vulnerable to the biases and politics of a partisan administration – or one hostile to the protection of women’s rights. Currently, VAWA is up for reauthorization and necessary funding for 2022-26. The House passed a reauthorization bill in 2021 with a bipartisan vote. The Senate, however, continues to delay its final vote on reauthorization.

Twenty-six states have individually passed some form of an equal rights amendment. And Maine is one of 38 states that ratified an equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Yet our own constitution fails to include a specific provision to ensure against discrimination based on sex.

In the current absence of an ERA in the U.S. Constitution, Maine needs to ratify its own equal rights amendment. A constitutional amendment would provide the strongest protection and full weight of the law against sex discrimination. Maine voted to approve the ERA to the U.S. Constitution in 1974. We need to vindicate this vote by passing L.D. 344 so Maine voters can ultimately decide through referendum if they want equality for all.

Equal rights are human rights. We, the people of Maine, must be allowed our constitutional right to decide on equality in our state. But we won’t get that chance come November if state legislators vote against L.D. 344.

Our voices have been censored for too long. It is time to urge our state legislators to pass L.D. 344 and allow the voters of Maine to decide on equal rights for all.

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