House approves anti-gay-discrimination bill -- The Maine Archive on the Queer Resources Directory

A s s o c i a t e d - P r e s s

Friday May 9, 1997

House approves anti-gay-discrimination bill

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Rep. Michael Brennan could not help but feel a sense of deja vu.

Four years ago, the Portland Democrat was a member of the Maine Legislature that passed a bill outlawing discrimination against homosexuals, only to see it vetoed by then-Gov. John McKernan.

On Thursday night, the bill was back in the House and this time riding the momentum of a strong Senate vote of approval and Gov. Angus King's promise to sign it.

``It's rare, if ever, that I would ask anybody to try to repeat history,'' Brennan told his colleagues during a three-hour debate. ``But tonight, I'm asking each and every one of you to please repeat history, repeat the history of 1993, because by repeating that history, we will make history.''

Brennan was not disappointed: by a vote of 84-61, the House passed a bill that would prohibit discrimination against gays in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit.

Rep. Michael Quint, a gay lawmaker who appeared near tears as he was mobbed by well-wishers after the vote, said he was overwhelmed.

``I couldn't be happier. I knew that the majority of my colleagues would do the right thing,'' Quint said. ``I have to say I was a little nervous going in, but as the testimony and debate continued to move forward, all the wonderful, positive things were just fabulous.''

Opponents of the legislation attacked it as a ``jobs bill for gays,'' asserting it gives homosexuals special status and violates the local rights of communities.

``I know what discrimination is, but I'll tell you, I don't think we have to go to this level,'' said Rep. Marc Vigue, D-Winslow, who recalled being ridiculed as a child for being Catholic.

However, the majority of the legislators who spoke favored the bill. Comparing the issue to the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, many said the time had come for Maine to declare it would no longer tolerate any form of discrimination.

``I suggest to you that the region and the nation tonight are watching us to see if we will make the right choice,'' said House Majority Leader Carol Kontos, D-Windham.

Rep. Christopher O'Neil, D-Saco, recalled leaving a ``gay bar'' several years ago and being chased by four or five ``thugs' who called him names and threw a bottle at him, even though he wasn't homosexual.

``So you see, I was a victim of gay bashing, and that helped bring me around a little bit,'' O'Neil said. ``It changed my outlook on whether or not folks needed to be protected.''

But Rep. Susan Kasprzak, R-Newport, noting many homosexuals pursue successful careers, said she was not convinced they needed special protection. She also predicted the bill would not prevent discrimination.

``We can go on telling stories all night long about homosexual behavior and how those people have been discriminated against,'' Kasprzak said. ``People could in the same manner share stories about their religious orientation and how they've been discriminated against, even in this very body.''

Applause rippled through the House after the vote. As legislators left the chamber, they were applauded and congratulated by an army of gay-rights advocates.

The Senate on Wednesday approved the bill, 28-5.

Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said he would recommend to his organization's leadership that they begin a petition drive to throw out the bill. To get on the ballot this fall, foes of the bill must collect over 50,000 signatures within 90 days.

``We'll be continuing to say that we don't think this bill is necessary,'' Heath said. ``We think that homosexuality and homosexual practices should not qualify one for legal protections.''

The Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based lesbian and gay political organization, said nine states currently include sexual orientation in their discrimination laws: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.

New Hampshire's Senate passed a bill similar to Maine's on Tuesday, nearly two months after the House there did. Gov. Jeanne Shaheen said she will sign it.

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