Now that gay rights appears headed for a referendum, it's time to urge both sides to keep the coming debate civil, to stick to the facts.
Sadly, it already may be too late. Like it or not, the gathering of more than 58,000 petition signatures to block implementation of the state law passed last spring is a remarkable achievement in citizen mobilization. The standard of 51,000 was formidable; the Christian Civic League and the Christian Coalition of Maine are justified in taking pride in their accomplishment.
All of which makes it unnecessary and offensive for CCL Executive Director Michael Heath to call his successful campaign "a miracle of God" and the law he wants overturned a tool forcing society "to celebrate homosexuality."
Similarly gratuitous comments are coming from the other side. Christopher Hall, chairman of the Maine Democratic Party, responded to the petition drive by playing the Nazi card, proclaiming that the petition organizers are "hatemongers" seeking to "impose their warped views."
Biblehumping, misrepresentation and namealling are not needed here. The people's veto vote will not be held until sometime between December and April - Maine does not need months of venom. It needs a thoughtful debate on the legal ramifications of a legal issue.
The gay-rights law now on hold forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in credit, employment, housing and public accommodation. The law is, as its critics charge, is vague as to specifics, but such laws always are. It takes specific court cases to fill in the blanks..
Since there can be no court cases on a law that, at least for now, does not exist, it is the duty of both camps to put the over-blown rhetoric aside and to give voters proof of their claims.
There are gay-rights laws in effect in other states. Case law exists, precedents have been set. If, as opponents say, Maine's would give gays and lesbians special rights and not just equal rights, if it would trample upon the freedom of employers, landlords and parents, they should cite cases from those other states, they should prove it.
The same goes for gay-rights supporters. If gays and lesbians have, as they say, been denied employment, housing and seats in restaurants because of sexual orientation, let's have specific examples. If gay-rights laws in other states have righted these wrongs without abridging the rights of others, prove it.
Gay-rights proponents fought this battle for 20 years, they turned back a 1995 referendum that sought to ban gay-rights laws in Maine, they got their bill through the Legislature last session. Opponents responded and did what most said could not be done.
And so the question on the minds of many Mainers today is whether this will ever be settled. It will be if, and only if, voters are given the straight, unvarnished truth about the impact of gay-rights laws elsewhere. So let's leave God out of it. And Hitler, too. Just give us the facts.
Bangor Daily News Home Online
The Maine GayNet Archive