MacNeil-Lerher NewsHour Online


NOVEMBER 7, 1995


As citizens of Maine vote whether or not gays and lesbians are entitled to special minority protections, Eliza Hobson of New Hampshire Public Television reports.

ELIZA HOBSON, New Hampshire Public Television: Blackstones is a gay bar in Portland, Maine. William Clark is a regular customer here. He says one evening last summer he was getting some air outside the bar when a group of young men approached him.

WILLIAM CLARK: And three individuals that patrons had seen passing the bar two or three times came up to me, said, get off the steps, you fag, and everything, we live here, and you know, other gay derogatory comments that I'm, I'm not going to mention, but, umm, words were exchanged and everything. And I got up to leave. And the next thing I knew I got a punch in the head from somebody on my right.

ELIZA HOBSON: Clark received a beating that night which broke his nose and one eye socket. Authorities are treating the incident as a hate crime. Two men have been charged with the assault. Law enforcers for the state of Maine warn that hate crimes against gays will be harder to prosecute if Referendum Question No. 1 is approved by voters November 7th. Question 1 asks voters to restrict the number of groups which get protection from discrimination in state and local laws. Paul Madore heads the Coalition to End Special Rights, which supports the referendum.

PAUL MADORE, Coalition to End Special Rights: This is an opportunity for Maine citizens to go to the ballot and to--and to express their sentiment, their will regarding special rights legislation for homosexuals, and other classes, who choose to ask for their status.

ELIZA HOBSON: Attorney General Andrew Ketterer is urging a "no" vote on Question One. He's part of the movement called "Maine Won't Discriminate."

ANDREW KETTERER, Attorney General, Maine: We need to stop the hate against those who are perceived as being different. We need to stop the violence against those perceived as being vulnerable. The purveyors of bigotry and discrimination are the ones who are different. They do not represent the views of the mainstream here in Maine.

ELIZA HOBSON: Supporters of Question One say they do not represent bigotry, that they're seeking fairness under the law. At public debates, they argue that Maine is a safe place for homosexuals who need no more legal protection than anyone else. Jonathan Malmude is a member of Concerned Maine Families, the group which crafted Question One.

JONATHAN MALMUDE, Concerned Maine Families: Certainly, hate exists. Certainly, minority groups are persecuted many times, but the real issue here is what are the objective, empirical criteria to determining when a group is persecuted?

ELIZA HOBSON: Malmude says there's no proof that homosexuals suffer discrimination and the head of Concerned Maine Families, Carolyn Cosby, says it's impossible even to prove that someone's homosexual.

CAROLYN COSBY, Concerned Maine Families: We don't think that there should be a minority class instantly called into being simply by the people who want to identify themselves as being oriented in some particular sexual way. We simply are saying that protect those groups that are identifiable, that we can legitimately know who are receiving these benefits.

ELIZA HOBSON: Cosby maintains homosexuals want minority status in order to gain special government treatment, like affirmative action. Maine's governor, Angus King, disagrees. He wants citizens to vote "no" on Question One.

GOV. ANGUS KING, Maine: It's a scare tactic to talk about affirmative action. That's not the issue here. The issue is: Can somebody be fired from their job simply because of what they do on their own time in their private life? It's as simple as that.

ELIZA HOBSON: Supporters of Question One don't believe people are fired because they're gay. They point to statistics which indicate that homosexuals have higher than average income levels.

ADELE DEMERS, Question One Supporter: I don't think they're discriminated at all. We well know that they are among the class of a group of people with higher level of incomes. Why do they think they're being discriminated against? They obviously have jobs.

ELIZA HOBSON: The city of Portland is the only community in Maine with a local ordinance against discrimination based on sexual orientation. It and sections of state laws will be repealed if the referendum is approved. Steven Addario of Portland claims there is job discrimination here. He says he lost a job offer from a longtime business associate when he revealed that he is gay.

STEVEN ADDARIO: And I have to say that it was very much of a shock, to have him then and turn around say, because you are gay, that we can't do this, because--because he felt there was some kind of fear or, or discrimination that might end up happening which would hurt his business.

ELIZA HOBSON: Addario and others say homosexuals have no legal recourse if they experience discrimination in the job or housing markets. To refute this, supporters of the referendum ask why more lawsuits have not been filed since Portland passed its ordinance three years ago. There has been a handful of suits, and none has gone to court.

JOHN CLIFTON, Question One Supporter: If there was a hotbed of discrimination, and the ordinance has now been passed, you would think that they would now be in the courts with that ordinance seeking redress. If there have not been any cases, then obviously it wasn't that great a problem.

ELIZA HOBSON: In other states, voters have rejected similar referendum attempts, except in Colorado. And its law has never taken effect. It was ruled unconstitutional in Colorado's highest court, and it's now on appeal in the United States Supreme Court. To try to avoid troubles like these, the authors of the main referendum have come up with language that they hope will be legally bulletproof.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We took a look at the Colorado language. We considered it. It really wasn't what we wanted to do, but we didn't know what else we could do.

ELIZA HOBSON: To improve on Colorado's legal language, Concerned Maine Families brought in Bruce Fein, a constitutional lawyer from Virginia with a national reputation. Fein says Colorado created an unfair obstacle to the political freedom of homosexuals by amending its constitution and specifically targeting gays. The measure he wrote for Maine doesn't mention gays. It sets a limit on what groups can be protected. And it's non-binding. The legislature can overturn it at any time.

BRUCE FEIN, Question One, Author: It would not mean we're attempting in any way in Maine to exclude gays, lesbians from civil rights protections in the future if they can make a substantial claim of need and harm. What it is suggesting, if it was passed, I think, is that the Maine people believe that there really hasn't been that showing, certainly at present.

ELIZA HOBSON: Opponents predict the referendum language will create legal problems. By restricting protected groups to those listed in the Human Rights Act, they say groups besides gays, like veterans or health care workers, protected in other laws, will no longer be protected. Dale McCormick is a state senator.

DALE McCORMICK, State Senator, Maine: Smokers' rights will be obliterated. Protect--civil rights protections for hunters, you can't harass a hunter hunting in Maine, that will be wiped off the books by this.

ELIZA HOBSON: Support has come in to Maine from national groups on both sides of the issue, but one group which was expected to back Question One has not. The influential Christian Coalition declines to comment on the referendum. Some think they want a low profile on homosexual issues as the presidential elections approach. Doug Hattaway is spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a national lobbying group for gays.

DOUG HATTAWAY, Human Rights Campaign: They have tried to push this issue under the table because they know it turns off voters. Anyone who watched the election in 1992 when the Republicans turned over their convention to gay bashing and that sort of extreme rhetoric, most observers agree that that cost them crucial votes. And they're smart enough not to let that happen again.

ELIZA HOBSON: Referendum Author Bruce Fein dismisses the importance of the Christian Coalition's support for Maine's initiative.

BRUCE FEIN: If anything, I think that's an--it's an advantage politically because it suggests that this is, indeed, a moderate, enlightened, sensible approach that doesn't have the earmarks of, of right-wing dogmatism efforts to paint homosexuals as condemned from the Bible or otherwise and should be read out of our, of our political system.

ELIZA HOBSON: In Portland, William Clark fears the passage of Question One. Though his wounds have healed since he was beaten in front of Blackstones Bar last summer, he says he's still suffering. With a conservative Congress in Washington, homosexual activists are unlikely to gain federal legal protections. Supporters of Question One say that's why it's critical for voters to rebuff gay activists on the state level.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: If the Maine initiative stops them, they have nowhere to go, and it's very likely that we will see other states around the nation copy the Maine initiative.

ELIZA HOBSON: Supporters and opponents appear to be neck-in-neck on Question One. That's been the pattern in other states, where measures were narrowly defeated. The question here is whether the new approach will tip the balance.