November 1, 1995

Gay rights measure put to test in Maine

PORTLAND, Maine - The latest battle over gay rights will occur in this independent-minded, rural state on Nov. 7, 1995.

Religious conservatives have put a referendum on the ballot seeking to ban state lawmakers and communities from extending special civil rights protection to homosexuals.

The referendum also seeks to overturn local gay rights laws in Portland, Maine's largest city, and tiny Long Island in Casco Bay.

The vote is the latest in a string of ballot initiatives to forbid gay rights laws.

Anti-gay rights efforts failed in Idaho and Oregon. But Colorado voters approved a law similar to the one on the Maine ballot. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the law's constitutionality.

In Maine, the referendum is called Question 1. Polls show the electorate evenly divided.

Those in favor of a ban are at odds with the Maine's political and business elite. The state's Council of Churches, Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, political leaders from both parties, and Gov. Angus King, an independent, oppose banning gay rights laws.

The governor is featured in one television ad, warning that a yes vote "will give the state a black eye and make it harder to attract new businesses."

Those who oppose the ban have raised $700,000 to push their position, 10 times as much as the other side.

But grass-roots conservative groups have taken their views to voters in other ways, most recently in a TV debate. In the debate, Carolyn Cosby of Concerned Maine Families accused her well-financed opponents of pushing "a radical and militant agenda" for gay rights.

Paul Madore, a leader in the campaign for a ban, said: "Homosexuals already have the same civil rights protections as everyone else."

But Amy Pritchard of Maine Won't Discriminate said the call for a ban is "part of a national effort by the radical right to scapegoat gay men and lesbians."

Recognizing that many Mainers are cool to special gay rights, Maine Won't Discrimate focuses on economics. A boycott of Colorado after the 1992 vote hurt the state's tourism.

The idea of banning gay rights laws is dividing Maine geographically and socially.

Opposition to the anti-gay initiative is strongest in Portland, where an influx of professionals has transformed the aging waterfront into a fashionable shopping district. Many businesses are dis