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Maine becomes
16th state to ban antigay discrimination

Maine becomes
16th state to ban antigay discrimination

Discrimination in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and education on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity has now been outlawed in Maine. Gov. John Baldacci (pictured) signed the gay rights bill into law Thursday, while proponents of discrimination vow to continue the fight to overturn the law.

State lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday night to a bill to protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people from discrimination. It was signed Thursday by Gov. John Baldacci. The bill amends the Maine Human Rights Act by making it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and education based on sexual orientation or gender identity. "This act not only offers essential civil rights but serves as a welcome," Baldacci said upon signing the bill into law. "Our doors are open to all people. This is a proud day for Maine." "We're thrilled," said Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, a gay and lesbian advocacy group. "We believe the democratic process of government happened here." Maine is the 16th state to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Among those, five others, plus the District of Columbia, also ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity: California, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Rhode Island. Ten additional states protect gay and lesbian citizens from discrimination but do not mention gender identity as a protected characteristic: Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin. "Most Americans believe that employees have the right to be judged on the quality of their work, not on extraneous factors like race, sex, religion, or how well they measure up to preconceived notions about masculinity or femininity," said Riki Wilchins, executive director of GenderPAC, a group that lobbies and educates on gender issues. "Maine has done the right and just thing by making clear that all of us should be able to contribute our talents and skills, regardless of whether those abilities were once considered traditionally masculine or exclusively feminine." The Maine state senate approved the bill 25-10; the house voted 91-58. There was no debate in either chamber. The measure gained ground Wednesday with agreement to an amendment addressing concerns the law would be a gateway to same-sex marriage. The amendment says the law "may not be construed to create, add, alter, or abolish any right to marry that may exist" under state or federal law. "The people of Maine are now one gigantic step closer to equality," said Joe Solmonese, president of the national gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. "We laud the legislators, and especially Governor Baldacci, for pushing this important measure forward. Equality Maine has worked year in and year out to make the states law inclusive, and we congratulate them for this huge success." An amendment to the antidiscrimination bill that would have put the law up for a statewide vote failed in both the house, which voted 76-74, and the senate, 22-13. The Christian Civic League of Maine, which has led two successful referendum efforts since 1998 to overturn legislation banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, said it would announce its next step Thursday. Its online newspaper said Wednesday the only way to stop the bill is through a "people's veto" referendum. Smith said Equality Maine would wage a campaign to preserve the new law.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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