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Maine senate
advances gay rights bill

Maine senate
advances gay rights bill

Amid further legislative action to make Maine the final New England state to adopt a gay rights law, the Maine senate on Tuesday rejected a bid to send an antibias bill out to referendum if it's enacted. Senators voted 22-13 against an amendment calling for a referendum before sending the bill to the house. The senate also shot down a follow-up amendment, designed to weaken the bill, that would have made the losers in state human rights commission cases pay the costs of hearing their complaints. The bill, submitted by Gov. John Baldacci, would amend the Maine Human Rights Act by making discrimination in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and education based on sexual orientation or gender identity illegal. Maine law now prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, ancestry, and national origin. On Tuesday, Republican senator Debra Plowman of Hampden proposed the referendum amendment, saying that Mainers want to have a voice on the issue as they have in the past. Voters in 1998 and 2000 rejected gay rights measures that had been enacted by the legislature. But Democratic senator Barry Hobbins said the issue has a longer referendum history. If a 1995 referendum, in which voters rejected a proposal that would have diminished rights for gays, is also taken into account, total votes to protect gays from discrimination outnumber those against those protections, he said. "If you actually look at the totals...this issue has really been voted on three times," said Hobbins. "Don't let anyone tell you the people have spoken [only] twice." Opponents of the gay rights bill have accused supporters of rushing it through the legislative process in an effort to cut short their time to organize for a likely "people's veto" referendum on the measure. Hobbins rejected that claim, saying supporters are anxious to complete work on the bill in case the legislature adjourns within the next few days in a procedural step to enact a state budget. Lawmakers would then reconvene. The gay rights bill exempts religious organizations that do not receive public funds. (AP)

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