Governor King Signs The Gay Rights Bill -- A Personal Account

by Paula Stockholm with photos by Annette Dragon
The setting - for I feel it is important that all of you who walked this path with us feel you were there today - was the Hall of Flags where a broad "photo opportunity staircase" descends magnificently to the marble floor beneath the capitol dome.
Crowded onto the staircase are all the members of the 118th Maine Legislature - the men and women who passed An Act To End Discrimination by stunning margins last week; 28-5 in the Senate and 84-61 in the House. Above them, capitol staff members hung over the third floor railings to witness history.

Gerald Connely Sr., Gerald Talbot, Gerald Connely Jr., Joel Abromson, Harlan Baker, Mary Najarian, Dale McCormick

Governor King sat at a small desk in front of the steps, backed by almost all the sponsors of our Bill in its 20-year journey. There was Gerald Talbot who spoke for us first in 1977. On his right, Jerry Connelly, Sr. and then, Jerry Connelly, Jr., Harlan Baker and Mary Najarian... Tom Andrews was the only sponsor unable to attend. Last year's sponsor, Dale McCormick, now State treasurer, was there. And Joel Abromson, this year's sponsor.

On the sidelines stood Lois Reckitt who, with a group of NOW members, wrote the first bill in a farmhouse kitchen twenty years ago. Nearby was a woman who introduced herself later as one of five who lobbied for the bill in 1977, only to see it vanish in telling 88-54 and 21-10 votes.

Howard Solomon & Lois Reckitt
Barb Woods & Paula Aboud

Paula Aboud, former Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance president, flew in from Arizona. "I wouldn't miss this." was her understated explanation.

The rotunda was packed; the air was cracking; the mood jubilant. There was this unexpected sense that for the first time in our lives we stood on solid ground. There were hundreds of us. Old friends, tired warriors, and the partners who had waited-up for them through the years. And lots of plain old folks here to share the moment.

Cabinet heads, both bodies of the legislature, and the Governor himself were here as our allies today. We cheered them all -- and oh, how we cheered! There were tears of joy, as well.

The Governor spoke at length, praising all. He spoke with pride of the House debate last Thursday. How it was one of the finer moments of political history; of civility and the power of oratory delivered from the heart.

Accenting the significance of the moment, Governor King recalled his own participation in the 1964 March On Washington during another civil rights struggle. He addressed us, our opponents, and most-importantly, those Mainers who were just "uncomfortable" with gays and lesbians. Always a straight-shooter he declared emphatically that this wasn't "special rights"; that there are no "quotas" in the bill or references to children.

With a loud voice driven by his sincere beliefs, he declared
"We have enemies in Maine. They are poverty . . . disease . . .and ignorance. They are not gay people!"

It was a wonderful speech, delivered uncharacteristically from notes. It captured the significance and power of the moment.

The moment of the signing was lost in the last round of exuberant applause. We just cheered all the more.

Handshakes and hugs lingered among us for at least a half hour afterwards. We congratulated each other; sought out our legislators and hugged them, too. And we smiled as we never had before.

Eve Elzenga & Ed Hobler

Judy Edgerly & Harry Gordon

Jim Wise & Brian Kaufman

Ed Hobler & David Garrity
Click images for full-size

As our number trickled away, I joined Brewer Representative Sandy Fischer on the State House balcony. He told me about the House debate last Thursday. When it was over he had been anxious to leave and get home. But in the parking lot, with the moon lighting the capitol dome, he was captured by the events of the evening. "I just stood there for about ten minutes, he told me. "Thinking about how civil, how sincere and honorable the debate had been. And feeling very proud to have witnessed and participated in one of government's finer moments."

The Carnations: After the passage of the Equal Rights bill by both bodies of the Maine Legislature, MLGPA (the Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance) sent each member who voted "yes" a thank-you card and a pink carnation. At the signing ceremony carnations were everywhere! (Look in the pictures.)