Delaware ERA bill defeated in Senate (Scott Goss)

The proposed amendment: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of the sex of the person.” It had previously been passed by the House. An hour after clearing committee in the Senate, it was pushed to a floor vote. The 11-9 vote in favor did not meet the 2/3 majority (14 votes) required for passage. However, Sen. Cathy Cloutier was absent and Sen. Margaret Rose Henry changed her vote to “no” at the last minute to keep open the possibility of another vote before the June 30 end of the legislative session.

Republican senators had reportedly “heard concerns from hundreds of their constituents who raised questions about the possible unintended consequences of the bill – ranging from co-ed prisons to mandatory state funding for abortions.” Only Sen. Ernie Lopez voted for the proposal. However, Sen. Anthony Delcolo repeatedly said he supported the intent of the ERA amendment, albeit offering a series of clarifying amendments: (1) “Mere separation of the sexes” would not be construed as discrimination; (2) No bearing on abortion rights; (3) Provision would only apply to the government, not private sector.

Delcolo’s amendments were defeated by Democratic opposition, but this action “might have . . . stiffened opposition to the bill.” Sen. Stephanie Hansen, pictured at a microphone on page 6A, stated that she was “extremely frustrated.” And Dean Rod Smolla of the Delaware Law School weighed in against the amendments. “Trying to imagine every potential problem that a broad provision might later implicate [could] weaken the substance and symbolic importance of the principle.”

Comment: Although this strikes us as the right outcome, and let’s hope it sticks, the debate could have been far crisper. Just exactly what consequences were intended, other than to give more power to judges than they already have?
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