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Maine's big win

Maine's big win


It took seven years and three statewide votes, but a majority of Maine voters are now ready to extend at least some degree of equality to the state's gay and lesbian citizens. In a strong rebuke of a "people's veto," 55% of voters on November 8 rejected Question 1, which would have repealed a law passed earlier this year protecting gays from discrimination.

"They understood exactly what this law is about," said Betsy Smith, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Maine. "In the past and in this campaign our opponents' message has been based on lies and fear."

Maine voters had previously repealed legislature-approved antidiscrimination laws in 1998 and 2000, Smith said. During those campaigns antigay activists made so-called special rights the issue. "This time they decided 'special rights' might not be enough," she said, "and it was about marriage."

Smith and her allies worked hard to convince voters across the state that when marriage equality was the issue, they should vote on marriage, but for the November 8 election the issue was discrimination. They also put forth stories of state residents who had suffered because they were not protected--another strategy that may have brought out more "no" voters.

Maine is now the 16th state to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and the sixth to ban discrimination against transgender people. It was an important ballot-box victory among the cavalcade of antigay measures various states have passed in the past year. "This was a do-or-die situation for us," Smith explained. "We needed a big win." --Christopher Lisotta

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Christopher Lisotta