AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Foes of a gay rights bill that's on its way to Gov. Angus King for his signature said Friday they will spend the weekend regrouping and planning their next move.
Carolyn Cosby of the group Concerned Maine Families said it ``seems very likely'' she and her supporters will mount a referendum campaign to either block or overturn the bill.
King backs the legislation, which makes Maine the last state in New England to pass a bill protecting gays from discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations.
The bill's opponents say they are not convinced gays need special protection and fear the law will give homosexuals preference.
After passing the bill at the end of three hours of debate Thursday night, the House reaffirmed its decision Friday morning by a 82-62 vote.
The Senate, which overwhelmingly approved the bill earlier this week, backed it again with a bit of ceremonial flourish, 25-5.
Before the roll call, Senate President Mark Lawrence turned over his gavel briefly to the senator who helped shepherd the bill through the Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Susan Longley, D-Liberty, quoted the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall: ``In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.''
When the outcome was announced, the voting senators, their staff and spectators all stood and applauded.
Cosby and Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, had predicted the tally in the House would be much closer.
``What happened, I think, in the end is we just did not have the kind of support we needed on the floor in the debate period, which was very disappointing,'' Cosby said.
The bill had been resurfacing in the Legislature for the last 20 years. In 1993, both chambers passed it but it was vetoed by then-Gov. John McKernan.
Cosby and Heath both said they would be meeting with their prospective boards Friday to discuss strategy.
Heath has said he will recommend the league support a ``people's veto'' referendum drive to repeal the bill. That would require collecting more than 50,000 signatures within 90 days.
``It's going to be a long battle,'' Heath said.
Gay-rights advocates praised the Legislature's decision.
``I think it's excellent news,'' said Kim Mills of the Human Rights Campaign, a national lesbian and gay political organization. ``Clearly the fact that New Hampshire and then Maine passed these bills this week is an indication that we in this country are on the road to fairness and equality for all citizens.''
King's spokesman, Dennis Bailey, said the governor probably would sign the bill next week.
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