Maine became the
last New England state to legally protect gay men and
lesbians from discrimination Wednesday as a law that
voters refused to repeal last month went on the books.
The law took effect without fanfare. The state's Human
Rights Commission expected no flood of complaints
because the gay rights law is not retroactive.
"We've been getting calls occasionally and told
people we can't accept complaints until today,"
commission executive director Patricia Ryan said
Wednesday. "We don't expect to get 10 or 20 or 50 such calls."
The bulk of complaints to the commission
historically have involved discrimination based on
disabilities, followed by gender and whistle-blower
cases, Ryan said.
Maine voters on November 8 rejected,
55%-45%, an initiative to repeal a
legislatively enacted law to outlaw (in employment, housing,
credit, public accommodations, and education)
discrimination based on sexual orientation. It adds
new protections to Maine's Human Rights Act while
making Maine the sixth and final state in New England to
adopt a law banning discrimination against gays and
lesbians. Maine's law was enacted after a 30-year
effort and the defeats by voters of two previous measures.
Pat Peard, who has been involved in the effort
to enact a law for more than a decade, said she did
not expect to see a wave of complaints as the law
takes effect. "The importance of the day is, it's finally
happened, and Maine citizens have an extra measure of
protection they didn't have before," said Peard.
Boston-based organization Gay and Lesbian
Advocates and Defenders marked the day by updating its
publication that covers legal issues to include
information on Maine's new law. GLAD also said it is
recruiting additional Maine-based attorneys for its
legal referral service. "GLAD worked very hard with
our partners in Maine to make this day a reality,"
said Lee Swislow, the group's executive director. "Now
we stand ready to see that Mainers know about their new
rights and that the law is implemented and enforced."
Opponents of Maine's law have maintained it's a
step toward same-sex marriage in the state. Maine has
a domestic-partner registry, but it also has a statute
that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
A push for a state constitutional amendment
prohibiting same-sex marriage remains a possibility.
"We'll be making a decision soon after the New Year,"
said Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian
Civic League of Maine. (AP)