Maine GayNet - Judge upholds petitions challenging gay rights law

Tuesday November 25, 1997

Judge upholds petitions challenging gay rights law

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Supporters of Maine's gay rights law say they will probably decide my midweek whether to ask the state supreme court to stop a referendum from being held on the suspended law.

Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky announced the people's veto petition seeking the referendum survived a lawsuit in Cumberland County Superior Court with more than enough valid signatures.

"It is now up to the voters of Maine to determine whether the anti-discrimination legislation will become law," he said.

But Karen Geraghty, campaign manager for Maine Won't Discriminate, said her group will probably decide by Wednesday whether to go to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

"I guess we have three days in which to make a decision about whether or not we're going to appeal," Geraghty said.

The law's supporters had sued to challenge thousands of signatures on petitions calling for a repeal of the law, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in jobs, housing, credit and public accommodations.

Gwadosky said both sides agreed Monday to invalidate 11 signatures where the local registrar did not circle a number corresponding to each signature certified.

The total number of signatures invalidated as a result of the lawsuit stood at 284, far fewer than the 7,052 needed, Gwadosky said.

Superior Court Justice Roland Cole on Friday said that "in sum and substance," state election officials acted lawfully in their review of petitions collected by two conservative Christian groups in an attempt to block and eventually repeal the law.

But the judge ordered a hearing for Monday to examine some evidence. Gwadosky said the agreement was reached before the hearing, making it unnecessary.

Gwadosky said the way was now clear for Gov. Angus King to proclaim a date for a special election. Such an election must be held not less than 60 days nor more than six months from the proclamation.

The Christian Civic League of Maine and the Christian Coalition of Maine collected more than 65,000 signatures over the summer. After reviewing the petitions, Gwadosky cleared 58,182 as valid - 7,052 more than needed.

The filing of the petition on Sept. 18 suspended the law from taking effect.

The groups said the law, which King signed after the Legislature passed it last spring, would give special preferences to gays.

Not counting the latest attempt, the people's veto has been used 22 times since the procedure became available in 1910. It was successful in preventing legislation from taking effect in 10 of those instances.

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