Maine's big win

BY Christopher Lisotta

December 05 2005 1:00 AM ET

It took seven
years and three statewide votes, but a majority of Maine
voters are now ready to extend at least some degree of
equality to the state’s gay and lesbian
citizens. In a strong rebuke of a “people’s
veto,” 55% of voters on November 8 rejected Question
1, which would have repealed a law passed earlier this
year protecting gays from discrimination.

“They
understood exactly what this law is about,” said
Betsy Smith, executive director of the gay rights
group Equality Maine. “In the past and in this
campaign our opponents’ message has been based on
lies and fear.”

Maine voters had
previously repealed legislature-approved
antidiscrimination laws in 1998 and 2000, Smith said. During
those campaigns antigay activists made so-called
special rights the issue. “This time they
decided ‘special rights’ might not be
enough,” she said, “and it was about
marriage.”

Smith and her
allies worked hard to convince voters across the state that
when marriage equality was the issue, they should vote on
marriage, but for the November 8 election the issue
was discrimination. They also put forth stories of
state residents who had suffered because they were not
protected—another strategy that may have brought out
more “no” voters.

Maine is now the
16th state to ban discrimination based on sexual
orientation and the sixth to ban discrimination against
transgender people. It was an important ballot-box
victory among the cavalcade of antigay measures
various states have passed in the past year. “This
was a do-or-die situation for us,” Smith
explained. “We needed a big win.”
—Christopher Lisotta

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