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Maine senate passes bill to protect gays

Maine senate passes bill to protect gays

A bill that would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in Maine won a strong vote of approval Monday in the state senate; the measure has now moved to the house, where a vote could be held as soon as Tuesday. The bill, which adds protections to the Maine Human Rights Act, was approved 25-10 after a debate in which supporters said Maine is lagging behind other New England states by not having a law that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. "We're not leading, but we're in fact following," said Sen. Scott Cowger, noting that Maine's Latin motto translates to "I lead." "As a gay man myself, I know for a fact that we need this bill," added Cowger, a Democrat. Democratic senator Barry Hobbins noted that witnesses lined up at last week's judiciary committee hearing to tell firsthand stories of discrimination at work, at inns, and in banks because of their sexual orientation. The bill would amend the Maine Human Rights Act by making it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identification in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and education. The law now prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, ancestry, and national origin. Sen. Deborah Plowman said the bill's backers are rushing it through the legislative process, allowing too little time for the kind of thorough review other bills receive. "Nobody wants to use the word 'special,' but it sure got treated that way," said Plowman, a Republican. "When a bill gets preferential treatment, people want to know why." Opponents of the bill contend that supporters of Gov. John Baldacci's bill are pushing it through quickly to give the opposition less time to prepare for a petition drive that could force a "people's veto" referendum on the bill should it pass. Maine voters have rejected similar gay rights measures in recent years. A Democratic leader dismissed as an old tactic the assertion that the latest bill is getting special treatment and said, "We don't have a fast-track process here." "If you can't attack the merits of the issue, then you attack the process," added assistant senate majority leader Kenneth Gagnon. "Let's stick with the merits of the bill." Republican senator Chandler Woodcock said he's confident the gay rights bill's opponents will succeed in putting the issue before voters again. "This bill, for me, isn't necessary," Woodcock said.

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