Rep. Longhurst To Introduce Del. Equal Rights Amendment

DOVER – In an effort to ensure that all people are afforded equal protection in Delaware, House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst introduced the First State’s Equal Rights Amendment.

Sponsored by all 13 female legislators and male legislators from all four caucuses, House Bill 2 is the first leg of a constitutional amendment to modify Delaware’s Constitution, which seeks to advance equal rights and subjects inequitable treatment based on discrimination to strict scrutiny.

This legislation is straightforward and long overdue, said Rep. Longhurst, prime sponsor of the measure. It plainly states: “No person shall be denied equal rights under the law.”

The amendment is necessary, advocates say, because it will provide paths of legal recourse for women since the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution does not expressly protect women from sex discrimination. In the legislation, courts in the First State would be able to establish jurisprudence concerning equal rights violations under state law that reflects Delaware values.

“Discrimination in our day and age is blatantly unacceptable, but it sadly is a reality for many people. Sexual harassment, pay inequity and gender-based violence are still pervasive in our society. In fact, Delaware women working full-time, on average, still only earn 89 cents to every dollar their male counterparts earn,” said Rep. Longhurst D-Bear.

“Delaware has prided itself on being welcoming and inclusive for all residents, and House Bill 2 just affirms those values. Equality for men and women is an essential human right and we should do what we can policy-wise to make sure that Delaware residents are afforded the protections they deserve.”

Sen. Stephanie Hansen, prime Senate sponsor of the ERA, denounced discrimination, and said every Delawarean deserves equal protection, regardless of gender, disability, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity.

“At a time when forces in Washington are threatening to turn back the clock on equality, and as other states are learning the hard way about the consequences of discriminatory laws, it’s important for Delaware to affirm once and for all that everyone deserves equal protection under our laws – and that everyone truly means everyone,” said Sen. Hansen, D-Middletown. “Discrimination in any form is unacceptable in Delaware, and it’s well past time our state’s foundational document reflected that truth.”

The first Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in the 1920s, but was not passed by the U.S. House and Senate until 1972, according to the ERA Coalition. The bill subsequently had to be ratified by the states, Delaware being the second state to authorize the ERA in 1972.

However, the amendment fell three states short of the ratification deadline, so it was not added to the Constitution. Today, the ERA has been introduced in every Congressional session, but Congress has not voted on it in more than 30 years, despite the fact that polls indicate that more than 90 percent of Americans support the ERA.

Now, state officials from around the country are addressing the issue, by introducing resolutions and bills that require equal protection under the law.

“Equal treatment under the law is a right that every Delawarean should expect from their government,” said former state senator Karen Peterson, a staunch equal rights advocate. “HB 2 guarantees that our Constitution recognizes that basic right.”

So far this year, Nevada has been the only state to pass a resolution ratifying the ERA.

“Women have been waiting for 230 years for their equality to be recognized and their rights to be fully protected by the United States Constitution. In the absence of this protection, adding an equal protection amendment to the Delaware Constitution, is a powerful moral and legal commitment to the values of equality and fairness,” said Suzanne Moore, president of Delaware ERANow.

“It affirms our belief that all people are created equal. Delaware ERANow thanks Representative Valerie Longhurst for her support in sponsoring this landmark legislation. We urge members of the Delaware General Assembly to vote for House Bill 2.”

House Bill 2 will be introduced in Tuesday’s pre-file legislation.