Coalition leader Paul Madore marveled at what he
described as the final surge of petitions supporting a
people's veto referendum on Maine's pending gay rights law.
"They just kept coming and coming and coming,"
he told a jubilant group of about 50 opponents of the
challenged law who gathered on the statehouse steps
Tuesday to highlight their effort. "They're saying
they have a little over 57,000 signatures," said Deputy
Secretary of State Julie Flynn, who will oversee a
process of verification slated to begin virtually immediately.
If certified, that number would surpass the
threshold of 50,519 signatures needed to put the
measure on the November ballot. The ballot would read:
"Do you want to reject the new law that would protect
people from discrimination in employment, housing,
education, public accommodations, and credit based on
their sexual orientation?"
Twice before, Maine voters have rejected similar
legislation. This time the debate has strongly taken
on a new overtone, with opponents of the gay rights
law linking the question--unfairly, in the view of
proponents of the antidiscrimination legislation, who
held their own statehouse rally Tuesday--to the
issue of same-sex marriage.
Indeed, Madore, Michael Heath of the Christian
Civic League of Maine, and others at the people's veto
rally assembled under a banner that read, "The
Coalition for Marriage."
The pending measure was written to amend the
Maine Human Rights Act by making discrimination
illegal in employment, housing, credit, public
accommodations, and education based on sexual orientation or
gender. Maine law now prohibits discrimination based
on race, color, sex, disability, religion, ancestry,
and national origin. The new law would exempt
religious organizations that do not receive public funds.
The enacted legislation includes language declaring
that the measure is not meant to address a right to marry.
Madore cast the basic issue in familiar terms
Tuesday, saying proponents of the challenged law were
"wishing to confer minority class status on
homosexuals." His wife, Susan, recalled a petition drive
that she said was marred by insults directed at
circulators. "Talk about toleration," she said.
Backers of the law offered a similarly familiar
argument, reduced at times to chanting, inside the
statehouse Hall of Flags. "Maine won't discriminate,"
the crowd of close to 100 people cheered repeatedly.
Looking toward a November showdown at the polls, they added
loudly: "Vote no."
Jesse Connolly of Maine Won't Discriminate
declared that "Maine has zero tolerance for
discrimination" and that gay rights proponents are
"ready to win in November."
On an otherwise quiet day at a relatively empty
statehouse manned by early-summer skeleton staffs,
rival factions from two of the most committed
political alliances in the state put their passions on
display. For state election officials, it marked the
start of a new job.
The secretary of state's office has 30 days to
determine whether enough valid signatures have been
submitted to force a referendum. Flynn said Tuesday it
was a demanding chore but could have been worse. This time,
she said, state officials have no other batch of petitions
to review within the allotted time. For budgetary
reasons, however, she suggested the office would be
looking to conduct its review during normal business
hours to avoid overtime costs.
On Wednesday the Christian Civic League's online
newspaper, In the Record, highlighted Tuesday's
filing. "Based on previous petition drives, the number
of signatures should provide a safe margin, even
allowing for invalidated signatures," the organization's
newspaper said. "Officials of the Christian Civic
League and the Maine Grassroots Coalition want the
people of Maine to know that although this is an
exceptionally heated contest, it must also be a fair one,
and we are insisting that each signature be examined
with absolute impartiality and complete thoroughness."
House speaker John Richardson, a Democrat from
Brunswick, issued a statement pledging to join gay
rights proponents opposing a people's veto. "Three
months ago men and women from all parts of Maine and all
political parties stood together to pass landmark
legislation to protect people of all sexual identities
from discrimination in the workplace, in housing,
lending, and education. That was a proud day for Maine,"
Richardson said. "I am not surprised by today's announcement
that Michael Heath and the Christian Civic League have
submitted signatures to the secretary of state for
verification that would force a referendum on that
issue. I am also not disappointed by today's announcement.
"I welcome the chance to go before the people of
Maine and defend this policy. I think that this is an
opportunity for Maine to join the rest of New England
in saying that it is wrong to let the majority of
society dictate to the minority the rights they should have.
I hope that in the coming months we can have an open
and honest debate about why the people of Maine should
stand behind eliminating discrimination and support
this policy," Richardson said. (AP)