DOVER – Legislators, advocates, and spectators crowded into the Senate Chamber on Wednesday to witness the fourth and final vote to approve the Equal Rights Amendment in Delaware as the Senate voted 16-5 in favor of House Bill 1, Delaware’s equal rights amendment.
Following the roll call, these words became constitutional law in Delaware: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.”
Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, hailed the victory as an historic moment and a significant step forward for equality in Delaware.
“This nation has aspired to equality of rights under the law since we first announced independence, but the campaign to write and pass laws that uphold that equality has been a long one indeed,” said Hansen, who was the prime Senate sponsor for both phases of the amendment process. “Today, we mark another triumphant step forward in one of those long battles. From this day forward, the Delaware State Constitution will unequivocally guarantee equality of rights under the law for men and women alike. While the greater campaign for equality is not nearly finished, this latest chapter marks the culmination of an effort for an Equal Rights Amendment that dates back decades. To the women and men who started this fight, and to the many Delawareans who worked so hard to move us forward today, thank you.”
“Some critics say that passage of an equal rights amendment is largely symbolic because there are many laws that accord women the same rights as men,” said President Pro Tempore David McBride, D-Hawk’s Nest. “But I say that statutory protection is not enough – laws can be amended or narrowly interpreted and applied. The time has come to make women’s rights part of our organic law by embedding those rights in the Delaware Constitution. Only then will we have guaranteed that women’s rights will enjoy universal protection in the First State.”
The bill may be one of the shortest that the legislature will consider this year. At just 16 words, HB 1 has a longer list of sponsors and co-sponsors than anything else, including all 15 women serving in the Delaware state legislature.
“This is an incredibly historic moment for our state and it is a unique honor to be able to vote yes on HB 1 today,” said Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore, D-New Castle. “From the 126th GA to the 150th, the fight for an Equal Rights Amendment has been long and at times difficult. But for my daughter, and for the many women that will call this state home in future generations, I will forever be proud of the work we have done to raise gender equality to the highest law of the land in Delaware.”
Today’s Senate vote follows a successful House floor vote last week, where prime sponsor and House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, led the bill to a 35-6 vote.
“With the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, we have not only set the standard for women’s equality in this moment, but for years to come. We are saying strongly and with conviction that we value a vibrant Delaware, where men and women are on an even playing field,” said Rep. Longhurst. “The battle for women’s equality has been a decades-long struggle, with advocates tirelessly fighting for rights that should be protected under the law. At long last, their dreams have come to fruition today. It has been an honor to champion this effort with Sen. Hansen, building on the work of the suffragettes and trailblazing women legislators who have come before us.”
Under Article XVI, Section 2 of the state constitution, passage of the equal rights amendment required a two-thirds vote in both chambers of the General Assembly in consecutive sessions. HB 1 became effective upon passage.