Associated Press, 10:59
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Saying they overcame great odds to reach their goal, gay rights opponents announced today they gathered more than enough signatures needed to force a referendum on the new law barring discrimination against homosexuals.
"It's a miracle of God,'' Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said as he stood behind five cardboard boxes full of petitions at a State House news conference.
The signatures were to be turned over to state election officials, who could then put the gay rights law on hold a day before it was scheduled to take effect.
Heath said volunteers all over the state gathered 58,750 voters' signatures. A total of 51,131 were needed to force the "people's veto'' referendum and put what was promoted as civil rights law in abeyance.
The law was approved by the Legislature earlier this year after a two-decade effort, and signed as promised by Gov. Angus King. The measure bars discrimination on the basis of sexual preference in housing, public accommodations, credit and employment.
Christian Coalition of Maine leader Paul Volle said opponents believe the law "confers special rights to homosexuals'' and compromises the rights of "people of faith.''
"The legislation had threatened the civil liberties of business owners, parents and even charitable organizations that decline to celebrate homosexuality,'' said Heath.
A leader of the Maine Lesbian-Gay Political Alliance said she was surprised the opponents were able to round up the signatures they needed, but remained confident that voters will uphold the law when they vote on it at a special election on a yet-unspecified date after November but before next April.
"The reality is we've proven our case over a number of years,'' said Karen Geraghty, a former president of the alliance.
"I'm angry because we have to go through another referendum, and I'm disappointed because groups of fundamental Christians are unwilling to accept that the law has been (enacted),'' she said.
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