|Undaunted by the surrounding sea of residents espousing a different viewpoint, Hector Knight shows his support for a bill that would exclude homosexuals from a list of groups entited to protection from discrimination.|
Impassioned speakers make their case for and against a bill to limit protection from discrimination.
By Steven G. VEGH
AUGUSTA - "Warning. God is angry with America. REPENT! For great destruction is coming" read the vivid pink banner that Anthony Swan held high in the Augusta Civic Center on Tuesday.
Swan was one of 600 people at a legislative hearing on a proposal to restrict human-rights laws in Maine. Like the proposal, Swan's banner didn't mention sexual orientation- But like most in the crowd, Swan was clear about the issue driving his banner and his presence. "Homosexuals and gay rights," he said. Swan is against both.
"They need to heed this warning and repent from their wicked ways, because judgment is coming," the Lisbon Falls man said. "I'm not a fanatic. I just believe what I believe."
About a third of those at Tuesday's hearing showed, by applause, pins or signs, that they support the proposal raised via petition by Concerned Maine Families.
In similar fashion, the rest of the crowd clearly backed Maine Won't Discriminate, a coalition that opposes the proposal.
The proposal, if approved by voters or legislators, would exclude everyone from protection under local or state human-rights laws except those discriminated against because of race, color, sex, physical or mental disability, religion, age, ancestry, national origin, status or marital status. Existing laws, ordinances and guidelines that didn't fit those parameters - such as Portland's gay-rights ordinance - would be voided.
The proposal does not mention sexual orientation. Yet for more than four hours Tuesday, supporters and opponents of the proposal constantly referred to homosexuals in testimony before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee. The committee could recommend adoption of the proposal by the Legislature. But tradition suggests the Legislature will put the issue before voters in the November election.
Each of the two sides Tuesday appeared to expect a November vote rather than legislative action. "We're very comfortable going into this campaign," Carolyn Cosby, the leader of Concerned Maine Families, said prior to the hearing.
"Maine voters will not uphold this referendum," said Patricia Peard, executive committee member for Maine Won't Discriminate.
Speakers for each camp at Tuesday's hearing were adamant that success by the other side would be calamitous for society as a whole.
Speakers such as Bruce Fein, a conservative VA lawyer who wrote the proposal, suggested defeat would mean special rights for homosexuals. The rights could mean not just statutory protection from discrimination, but preference in adoptions and fraudulent claims of homosexuality to win government contracts reserved for minorities.
But Fein said, "The real dispute has pivoted on an attempt by others to endorse their activity" - homosexual "bedroom activity."
"Are we for toleration, or are we for mandatory endorsement?" Fein asked.
On the opposite side, speakers such as Marc Mutty, spokesman for Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland warned that the proposal is a broad threat to human rights.
Because it limits anti-disennunation protection to certain groups, the proposal leaves out all others not named, Mutty said.
"The emphasis today may be homosexual people, but let's not forget workers' compensation victims, veterans, health-care providers, even smokers and many other groups too numerous to mention who may be adversely affected by this legislation," he said.
Compared to speakers like Mutty and Fein, most in Tuesday's crowd were essentially lay people in the debate.
"I don't feel the gays should have special rights. I have nothing against them. I love 'em, because God has told me to love 'em, and I don't agree with the hate crimes," said Laurene Hill of Sebec.
"There are a group of people who feel they can take away from me something that's my birthright: civil rights," said Marianna Casagranda of Portland. "We just happen to be the target at this moment; I have no doubt others will follow."
[These quotes appear as a sidebar:]"The emphasis today may be homosexual people, but let's not forget workers' compensation victims, veterans, health-care providers, even smokers, and many other groups too numerous to mention who may be adversely affected ... " Marc Murty, Catholic Diocese of Portland"The issue here lies largely between tolerance and endorsement (of homosexual activity)" ... Bruce Fein, Attorney for Concerned Maine Families"Make no mistake, this measure makes it legal to discriminate." ...Patricia Ryan, Maine Human Rights Commission"There is no hate crisis in this state, only a crisis of credibility in the Attorney General's Office." ... Larry Lockman, Concerned Maine Families"ln a democracy, we are only safe when we're all safe, not just when some of us are safe." ...Andrew Ketterer, Maine Attorney General
[Go to Top]
The Portland Newspapers Home Page
The Maine GayNet Archive