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Antigay activists rally against new Maine law (15891)


Antigay activists rally against new Maine law

Several hundred opponents of Maine's newly enacted law banning discrimination against gays and lesbians turned out for a soggy rally in front of the statehouse on Thursday to display their support for a "people's veto" effort. Activists crowded under the covered front entrance and huddled under umbrellas amid a steady rain while rally leaders addressed them. "This is an hour of deep crisis," said Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine. The rally was in response to a law Gov. John Baldacci signed March 31 that will prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, credit, and other areas based on sexual orientation. Opponents, who see the law as a gateway to same-sex marriage, immediately launched a petition drive to force a referendum on the new law. Maine voters rejected similar gay rights measures in 1998 and 2000, and many of those at the rally see passage of the new law as an affront to voters' wishes. "This to me is unconscionable," said Alfred Cooper III, a business owner who drove from Millinocket to attend the rally. "I'm fighting mad."

The law's opponents have until June 28 to submit the signatures of at least 50,519 voters to the secretary of state in order to force a referendum next November. The civic league and a group called the Maine Grassroots Coalition are leading the campaign that's being carried out with the aid of evangelical pastors circulating petitions among their congregations. In an interview, Heath said he had no estimate of the signatures gathered so far, adding, "It's looking good [but it's] far from over." Addressing the rally later, he said, "The threat the homosexual rights movement poses to our state and our nation is great. Gone forever will be the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman for life. Marriage will have been destroyed, the family as we know it will disappear, and the long-desired goal of social disintegration will be complete."

Sponsors of the legislation, noting that Maine is the last New England state to enact protections for gays, labeled the suggestion that the law sanctions gay marriage as "an outrageous scare tactic." The law "is about preventing job and housing discrimination. It's about simple fairness and equality. To try to suggest anything else is another attempt to try and confuse the good people of Maine," said a letter to lawmakers signed by the bill's chief sponsor, Republican senator Karl Turner, and cosponsor, Democratic representative Anne Perry. "It's time Maine joined its neighbors to end discrimination," they wrote.

While the rally went on, supporters of the gay rights law held a quiet counterdemonstration on the portico above the statehouse steps. Several held signs that read, "Jesus Values Justice."

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