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Maine activists fight repeal of new pro-gay law

Maine activists fight repeal of new pro-gay law

Supporters of Maine's new law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation have begun a campaign to discourage people from signing petitions that call for a referendum on repealing the law. Pat Peard of Maine Won't Discriminate, which supports the antidiscrimination law, said volunteers will begin an "outreach" approach in the coming weeks to convince voters that the law is good and should stay on the books. The bill, which Gov. John Baldacci signed last month, prohibits discrimination in employment and other areas based on sexual orientation. The law is similar to previous gay rights legislation that voters rejected in 1998 and again in 2000. The state constitution allows voters to repeal a law with a "people's veto" if opponents collect enough signatures within 90 days of the end of the legislative session in which the bill was signed into law. The law's principal opponents, the Christian Civic League of Maine and the Maine Grassroots Coalition, have until June 28 to submit the signatures of at least 50,519 voters to the secretary of state's office. "We are not going to sit back and wait to see if referendum backers collect enough signatures," Peard said. "We're in campaign mode now." Maine Won't Discriminate has no plans to run television ads before the June 28 petition deadline, but Peard did not rule out that eventuality. Michael Heath of the Christian Civic League of Maine said he is not surprised that the law's supporters are trying to discourage voters from signing petitions. Heath instead believes an antireferendum campaign will only help his cause because keeping the law in the public discourse will allow voters to recognize its flaws and build support for its repeal. Opponents of the gay rights law have long argued that such a law would move the state toward recognizing same-sex marriage. Heath said the new law may "lay a legal foundation" for the courts to equate human rights with marriage rights. Peard said that argument is "an attempt to mislead the voters." Maine was the last state in New England to adopt legislation to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination, joining 15 other states with such a law. (AP)

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