As Maine people prepare to debate gay-activist demands for protected class status and legalization of same-sex marriage, it's increasingly apparent that civility and rational discourse may be the first casualties of the controversy.

Already, gay-rights advocates have initiated a nasty campaign of personal insult and vilification in the print and broadcast media.

Consider the wretched excess of the commentary appearing on the opinion pages of Maine newspapers in the past few months. Opposition to same-sex marriage has been compared to the "worst evils in human history," in clouding the persecution of witches.

One letter denounced the citizens' petition to ban same-sex marriage as "un-American," while Betsy Smith, the head of the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, falsely accused petitioners of fomenting violence against gays.

Blatant falsehoods, grotesque exaggerations, and intolerance for differing opinions are the trademarks of Maine's gay-activist leadership and its religious-left sympathizers.

The smear tactics and hate-mongering here in Maine reflect a national strategy of conscious deception and wholesale manipulation of public opinion.

Gay marketing professionals (and activists) Marshall Kirk and Erastes Pill recommended just such a political and media strategy in a Nov. 1987 article entitled, "The Overhauling of Straight America."

They advised gay activists to always portray gays as victims, not as aggressive challengers. At the same time, Kirk and Pill recommended: "Make the victimizers look bad... The public should be shown images of ranting homophobes whose secondary traits and beliefs disgust middle America," including Klansmen, skinheads, Nazis, and "bigoted souther ministers drooling with hysterical hatred to a degree that looks both comical and deranged."

Now more than ever, the goal of the militant leadership of the homosexual-rights movement is to silence its critics through intimidation, bullying and censorship. First Amendment free-speech rights are under attack.

The implementation of this strategy by gay-rights advocates in Maine is well under way. Witness the uproar at Bowdoin College recently in reaction to a student's e-mail message expressing a contrary opinion with regard to the aggressive promotion of homosexuality on campus.

At the State House, gay activists have proposed creation of a special unit within the Attorney General's Office to monitor and investigate alleged "bias incidents" against homosexuals. Trouble is, the definition of "bias incident" encompasses noncriminal expression of free speech deemed to be unfriendly to gays and lesbians.

Published letters to newspaper editors could trigger intervention by the Thought Police in Augusta if a gay-rights advocate complained, even anonymously.

The deliberate dishonest inflation of hate-crime and bias-incident statistics by the Attorney General's Office has added fuel to the fires stoked by gay extremists.

Lesbian activist Dale McCormack (recently appointed state treasurer by the Democratic majority in the Legislature) falsely claimed that hate crimes against homosexuals increased during the 1995 referendum campaign to limit gay-rights legislation.

McCormack's scurrilous and unfounded accusation was reported matter-of-factly, without any critical scrutiny by Maine media establishment.

Maine people deserve better than this. A gay rights bill will be introduced in the 118th Legislature, and a citizens' petition to ban same-sex marriage is also on the legislative agenda.

Concerned Maine Families has consistently engaged Maine people and their elected representatives in civil discourse and rational debate on a wide range of issues. In 1995, we drafted a statement of principles pledging signers to conduct a civil and principled debate of civil-rights issues, Particularly gay-activist demands for protected class status. Leaders of the gay-rights coalition stubbornly refused to sign on.

CMF believes the people of Maine are perfectly capable of debating these vital questions in an atmosphere of mutual respect for differing opinions. We call upon our adversaries in this process to disown and disavow the smear tactics being urged upon them by the national leadership of the homosexual-rights movement.

Let's not allow the well of public discourse to be poisoned by extremist elements who view Maine as a pawn in their national strategy to obfuscate rather than enlighten.

Lawrence Lockman
Concerned Maine Families