Delaware Equal Rights Amendment passes House 35-6

Date: January 16, 2019
January 15, 2019

A bill identical to the Equal Rights Amendment passed last session was approved by the House Jan. 10 by a 35-6 vote. It now awaits action in Senate committee.

Introduced in December by House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, the bill is companion to House Bill 399, passed last session by both House and Senate.

“With this legislation, the state is saying that we value equality, and we value a vibrant Delaware where men and women are on an even playing field. We are saying to our young girls that your opportunities to succeed are not limited,” Longhurst said.

Voting yes from Sussex County were Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton, Rep. Ron Gray, R-Selbyville and Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach.

Sussex County representatives voting no were Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, and Rep. Jesse Vanderwende, R-Bridgeville.

“We should have the language changed so there's no discrimination on the account of sex,” said Briggs King, speaking before the House voted.

If passed, however, the amendment would apply only to the State of Delaware and its political subdivisions, not private entitities. Briggs King said the wording protects all-girls schools such as Ursuline Academy and all-boys academies such as Salesianum.

Smyk, who also voted for the amendment, said he has concerns about adding a protected class when anti-discrimination laws already exist. He said many constituents against the bill contacted him after the vote.

“Discrimination is already not tolerated by Delaware or the federal government,” he said.

However, Briggs King said wording in housing, equal opportunity employment and other laws varies, and a Constitutional amendment would make sure that discrimination against women is not tolerated.

“I know we are still grappling with those issues today,” she said.

Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, said an ERA amendment is needed in Delaware's Constitution to protect the women of our state and guarantee their equal rights.

He said he was given an estimate of about 1,100 mentions in Delaware code that need

While there are some sections of Delaware code that grant equal rights for women, he said, he was given an estimate of about 1,100 examples in Delaware code that need updating to guarantee those rights.

“By putting that in our Constitution all those sections are updated,” he said. “In 2019 to think we don't have something in our Constitution that protects women's rights is shocking.”

All 12 women in the House voted for the amendment. The bill is similar to a federal ERA bill proposed in 1972 that was passed in Delaware at a time when the House was Republican controlled, Briggs King said.

“This is a true bi-partisan effort,” she said.

The 1972 bill failed to win ratification, but Delaware was one of 35 states to approve it. A total of 38 states – three-fourths of 50 – were needed for the amendment to be added the U.S. Constitution, according to

The state bill was assigned Jan. 10 to the Senate Executive Committee, which is scheduled to meet Wednesday, Jan. 16.

If passed by 14 members of the 21-member Senate this consecutive session, the ERA bill would become an amendment to the Delaware Constitution. In Delaware, constitutional amendments do not require the signature of the governor.