By Liz Chapman
Sun-Journal Staff Writer
Augusta - Fearing another bruising battle over gay rights in Maine, Lewiston Sen. Gerogette Berube said Tuesday she will withdraw her bill to prohibit same-sex marriages.
Berube said many factors led to her decision, including lack of time among legislators to fully debate the measure.
The veteran legislator also worried that despite her intentions to find a middle ground on the explosive issue, the debate would have turned ugly.
"We (could not) have assured the tone of the debate would have remained rational," she said.
Berube was lobbied by some of her legislative peers, who asked her to withdraw the bill so they wouldn't be forced to vote on it in an election year.
She said some legislators told her they favored the bill but would vote against it to avoid alienating the gay community and their liberal supporters.
"That gives you an idea of what's been going on in the back room," Berube said.
Karen Geraghty, president of the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, praised Berube's decision.
"We applaud Sen. Berube's move today," Geraghty said. "We appreciate the fact that she is allowing for a cooling off period after Question 1," the statewide anti-gay measure defeated last November.
"The focus of the gay community and our supporters over the next year will be to talk to our coworkers and neighbors about the discrimination we face everyday," Geraghty said.
She added, "Gay people in Maine are concerned about an increase in the level of violence against us and about the discrimination we face in employment and housing. We hope education will provide relief from these realities."
Berube's bill would have amended Maine's marriage laws to expressly prohibit gay marriages. It also would have provided protection from discrimination for people who report hate crimes.
Many other provisions of Berube's original gay-rights bill were withdrawn last week. The original measure was resoundingly critized by gay rights leaders as "anti-gay" becuase it contained so many loopholes for landlords and small business owners.
The original bill also would have goven homosexuals protection against discrimination for status, but not for behavior: they could not have been discriminated against simply because they are gay, but should an employer or landlord witness gay behavior they found offensive, they could fire or evict the person.
After talking with colleagues and constituents, Berube said she decided to pull the entire bill.
"There seemed to be support coming from all sides," Berube said, noting she received numerous letters and phone calls urging her to not withdraw the bill.
"I was very pleasantly surprised at the enormous support that came from average citizens," Berube said.
But the lack of time and the concern over reopening wounds inflicted during last year's statewide anti-gay referendum, which voters rejected, prompted Berube to change course.
"I still believe the amended bill was the right one," she said. "....There are still people who are asking me not to withdraw it, but I don't feel at this time the issue would be well served."
Berube, a democrat, will not be able to run for re-election this year because of term limits. But she said one lawmaker who hopes to return for another term plans to introduce her bill during the next session.
Berube has supported gay rights measures since they were first introduced in 1974.