The following also appeared as a guest column in Wilmington’s News Journal and DelawareOnline.com.
By Carl W. Heckert, Esq. – It took almost 50 years but it finally happened. On January 16th, Delaware’s senate approved an equal rights amendment to its state constitution that bars discrimination based on sex. The legislation, considered by some to be “symbolic,” is anything but for my family.
We were all in attendance last week, with some crying tears of joy in a standing-room only crowd that extended to our balcony overlooking the legislative floor. 47 years ago, my late Great Aunt Clarice started this journey as a woman whose occupation was listed as “homemaker.” Editors at The News Journal even called her “a special kind of suburban housewife.” But from 1964 until 1974, she was known as State Rep. Clarice Heckert from the 9th District.
A Republican, my Great Aunt Clarice was one of six women in the Delaware General Assembly who voted to ratify an equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1972. At the time, though, it resulted in heartbreak. Approval from 38 states was required to become law, and it came up short by just three states. This month we were there to see Delaware amend its constitution providing equal rights to women. Now this single sentence is in the state’s constitution:
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex.”
Seems simple, right? But there was opposition 50 years ago, and there still is today. The amendment was defeated in the General Assembly in 2016 and 2017 before this month’s historic vote.
As an attorney for 28 years, I certainly understand the checks and balances put in place to vet any amendment. But do these protections under the law really merit 50 years of opposition that stood strong until just this month?
At the law firm Gawthrop Greenwood in Greenville, I practice in Family Law and know all too well that Delaware’s equal rights amendment won’t make immediate change for women when it comes to the disparities they experience in the workplace, and sometimes in their own homes. But my Great Aunt Clarice would have argued that in Delaware, women now have more protection against these inequalities, for everything from violence against women to workplace discrimination.
Great Aunt Clarice was both a progressive and a product of her times. Her advice to female college graduates was to put family first, and then give your spare time to politics. Yet she never accepted any campaign contributions, she made driver’s ed free and mandatory for teens, championed preventative maternal and child health care, and sponsored a bill to raise teachers’ pay and one to support year-round schooling.
If this proud politician and “special kind of suburban housewife” could champion such change 50 years ago, why can’t we do it when it comes to equal rights today? Delaware has finally approved the equal rights amendment. Now, it’s time for the U.S. Constitution.
Carl W. Heckert, Esq. is a partner at Gawthrop Greenwood, PC with offices in Greenville, DE. He practices in family law, estate planning, business law and real estate. Carl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 302-777-5353.