Maine Voters to Decide Whether to Ban Rights Protection for Gays


Associated Press Writer
October 18, 1995

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The most divisive issue on Maine's Nov. 7 ballot is an anti-gay rights measure that doesn't even use the words "homosexual" or "sexual orientation."

Question 1 seeks to limit state and local rights guarantees to age, sex and eight other categories already in the Maine Human Rights Act - none of them sexual orientation. If passed, the measure would repeal a gay rights ordinance voters approved two years ago in Portland, Maine's largest city.

Backers warn that without a ban, homosexuals will get special rights such as gay affirmative action in hiring.

"They have acceptance. They have toleration. ... If they were smart, they would simply accept that and stop this push for minority-class status," said Carolyn Cosby, a Portland housewife who formed Concerned Maine Families to put the measure on the ballot.

She said she omitted the word "homosexuality" in part to avoid the appearance of gay-bashing. But that's exactly what opponents see.

Opponents of the measure, who include Gov. Angus King, decry fears of "special rights" for gays as bogus.

"Maine hasn't, Maine doesn't and Maine won't discriminate," said King, the nation's only independent governor, at last month's campaign kickoff for Maine Won't Discriminate.

The group's allies include the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, the Maine Medical Association, the Maine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Maine Municipal Association, representing the state's cities and towns.

By mid-October, Maine Won't Discriminate raised $655,289, compared with $61,000 collected by Concerned Maine Families and its ally, the Coalition to End Special Rights.

Tennis star Martina Navratilova, a lesbian, came to Maine to warn voters that the measure, like one approved in her home state of Colorado, sends the message that "it's OK to discriminate against gay men and lesbians."

Maine is the only state with gay rights on the ballot this year and the fourth state in three years to seek to ban such protections.

Voters rejected similar proposals once in Idaho and twice in Oregon. Colorado voters approved a ban on gay-rights laws in 1992, but it was thrown out by the state's high court and is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 1993, the Maine Legislature approved a gay rights bill, but Gov. John R. McKernan, a Republican, vetoed it. King has said he would sign such legislation.

Nine states and 158 cities and counties now afford homosexuals some form of bias protection, according to the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign. The states are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.