|Friday - March 10, 1995|
Activists won't seek rights bill for gaysJohn Hale Of the NEWS Staff
AUGUSTA -- Supporters of gay rights announced Thursday they will not introduce a gay rights bill in this year's legislative session for fear of confusing voters already faced with an anti-gay rights referendum.
Gay rights activists said that if a civil rights bill for homosexuals were to win approval by the Legislature, it likely would be declared a competing measure to the referendum banning gay rights measures initiated by Concerned Maine Families.
Then both measures would have to appear side-by-side on the November ballot along with a third choice, "none of the above. "
"This issue is too important to risk confusing matters by putting a partially competing measure (the anti-discrimination bill) on the ballot as well," said Patricia Ryan, executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission. "We believe voters will say that Maine, as a state, won't discriminate, and we want them to have a clear shot at that issue. "
Lawyers for the Maine Human Rights Commission determined the gay rights bill probably would be declared a competing measure to the referendum.
Carolyn Cosby,chairwoman of Concerned Maine Families, declared a victory for her side in the withdrawal of the gay rights bill.
"When it became clear to the gay militants that their proposal would have to go to the people, then they withdrew it," Cosby said.
"They are trying to evade debate. "
Cosby also said the bill's withdrawal meant that the Maine Civil Liberties Union did not expect to prevail in a lawsuit filed in Kennebec County Superior Court that seeks to keep the referendum off the ballot.
"We think it's a huge concession on their part," said Cosby.
"We're confident of victory in November. They may know they don't have the votes in the Legislature and aren't telling the public. "
Cosby's group collected more than 66,000 voter signatures to force a referendum on the proposal to ban municipal gay rights ordinances and strike down pending gay rights laws and ordinances.
Whether the measure would prohibit passage of future gay rights laws remains an open question.
Every two years since 1977, gay rights supporters have tried to win passage of a gay rights bill. The bill would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, public accommodations and credit.
Two years ago, the Legislature for the first time passed a gay rights bill, but then-Gov. John R. McKernan vetoed it. Independent Gov. Angus S. King has promised if the Legislature passes a gay rights bill while he is governor, he will sign it into law.
Karen Geraghty, president of the Maine Lesbian-Gay Political Alliance, said the strategy of her group and the anti-referendum group, Maine Won't Discriminate, will change.
"We'll talk less about the anti-discrimination bill and more about the effect of the referendum," said Geraghty. "Defeating the referendum is certainly the big item. But it doesn't bring protection to gays and lesbians. So we will go forward with the anti-discrimination measure. It just won't be this year. " Sen. Dale McCormick, D-Monmouth, who was prepared to sponsor a gay rights bill this year, said, "I respect the referendum process and I trust the judgment of the people of Maine. I see no benefit to having two conflicting measures on the ballot. It will only serve to confuse matters, and it could result in no clear answer being reached despite a tremendous effort expended by both sides. "