November 8, 1995

Bid to end gay rights protection defeated amid voter signup flap

By Royal Ford, Globe Staff , 11/08

PORTLAND, Maine - A statewide referendum to bar discrimination protection for homosexuals was defeated yesterday. With 88 percent of the vote counted, the proposal was rejected by 53 percent of voters in unofficial returns from 569 of the state's 646 precincts.

The count, which included several conservative areas, stood at 186,753 against the proposal, 164,800 in favor.

Gay rights activists and supporters issued a victory statement late last night before the final results were in.

``Tonight, common sense and decency triumphed over extremism,'' said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign.

Carolyn Cosby, head of Maine Concerned Families, the group whose referendum would have banned specific protection of gays and lesbians in state and local ordinances and overturned other protections, conceded defeat and vowed to fight an expected push for a gay rights bill in the Legislature next year.

Amid an unexpectedly high voter turnout, the nationally watched referendum developed a collateral controversy earlier in the day when its backers attempted to videotape people who showed up at City Hall to register to vote.

Cosby accused the Portland city clerk of allowing outsiders to register in huge numbers.

``She said we were allowing a `sea of white slips,''' said Nadine Daniels, the city clerk. Under Maine law, citizens can register to vote on Election Day by producing two of 10 varieties of proof of residency. They are then given white slips that allow them to vote at their local wards, just as if their names had long been on the voter lists.

``We had lengthy lines of people waiting to register,'' said Daniels, who said that Cosby and a campaign worker showed up to challenge registrations and videotape registrants.

The vote involved the only statewide gay rights referendum in the nation this year and the first east of the Mississippi River.

The referendum would have banned the enactment of municipal gay rights ordinances and invalidated ordinances already passed in Portland and Long Island. It also would have removed gays from specific protection under the state's hate crimes law.

Backers of the referendum argued that gays should not be given ``special rights''; its opponents warned that while gays are the target of discrimination and violence and need special protection, the referendum could harm others. They said it would signal ``prior restraint'' on any future efforts to protect groups that may face discrimination.

Unlike the Colorado referendum of 1992, in which voters approved a repeal of specific gay rights protections, the Maine proposal did not mention homosexual lifestyles. Instead, it asked if voters wanted protection limited to ``race, color, sex, physical or mental disability, religion, age, ancestry, national origin, familial status and marital status.'' It would have repealed state or local laws that have expanded on this list.

This story ran on page 22 of the Boston Globe on 11/08.