Maine GayNet - Vote set for Feb. 10 after gay rights backers end petition challenge

Wednesday November 26, 1997

Vote set for Feb. 10 after gay rights backers end petition challenge

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Gov. Angus King on Wednesday proclaimed Feb. 10 as the date of a statewide referendum on Maine's gay rights law.

The governor acted after backers of the suspended statute said they will not appeal a judge's decision upholding the validity of the "people's veto" petitions that forced the special election.

"We've been waiting for the date," said Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, a leader of the referendum push. "We're glad to have it and we're ready to go with our campaign."

King, a gay rights supporter, said that with the court challenge resolved, "I have decided to call the election as soon as possible to give Maine people the opportunity to settle this issue."

The law, enacted in June and signed by the governor, would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in jobs, housing, credit and public accommodations.

Seeking to block the law, the Christian Civic League and the Christian Coalition of Maine collected more than 65,000 signatures over the summer. After reviewing the petitions, the state found that 58,182 - or 7,052 more than needed - were valid.

The total number of signatures invalidated as a result of the lawsuit was 284.

Maine Won't Discriminate, which challenged the petitions in court, said it decided not to ask the Supreme Judicial Court to reverse Superior Court Justice Roland Cole's ruling on the issue.

Pat Peard, one of the lawyers involved in the legal challenge, said the group had no regrets about taking the case to court.

"We raised important legal issues that made it clear how the standards that are applied to this process must be consistent and fair. So in that sense, we were successful," she said.

Gay rights supporters expressed confidence that they would prevail in the referendum.

"Mainers aren't going to allow themselves to be the only state in New England that allows discrimination," Peard said.

The civic league's Heath stopped short of predicting the outcome but said his organization was prepared to take its case before the people.

By law, the election must be held no sooner than 60 days and no later than six months from when the petitions were validated, a provision that barred King from scheduling the vote at the same time as the June primary.

Heath said the governor could have settled on any date prior to April 20.

"From a weather standpoint, the chances of avoiding bitterly cold weather and snow would obviously have been better the closer you get to April 20th," Heath said.

While suggesting that a primary consideration would be to maximize the voter turnout, Heath said he was not finding fault with the date King selected.

"We're not bitter about it, and we're not complaining," he said. "We're just making an observation."

Peard said her group had no problem with Feb. 10.

"We're ready to go on any date the governor has set," she said. "I think weather is always a factor in any election."

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