Friday June 13, 1997

Christian Civic League votes to pursue anti-gay-rights repeal

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The Christian Civic League of Maine decided Friday to go ahead with its campaign to repeal a bill protecting homosexuals from certain forms of discrimination.

Michael Heath, the league's executive director, said his group's board of directors voted to endorse an effort to collect more than 51,000 signatures to block the bill from becoming law and force a referendum.

Under a bill passed this spring by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Angus King last month, gays in Maine cannot be discriminated against in housing, public accommodations, credit or employment.

King met with Heath and other league leaders on June 6 to try to persuade them not to go forward with their repeal campaign.

Only about a third to a half of the league's 30 directors were present for the vote Friday, but the result was unanimous, Heath said.

"My sense of the board was that they're very supportive of moving ahead," Heath said. "They want to move ahead."

Betsy Smith, president of the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance, said she was "deeply disappointed" with the decision.

"Maine has already made it clear that we do not want anti-gay discrimination to be legal," Smith said, noting voters two years ago defeated a proposal that would have prevented cities from extending rights to gays.

Heath previously had said the league may wait until July 4 to make up its decision. That's the deadline the organization set to get commitments from 1,000 volunteers willing to circulate petitions.

However, since the board only meets every other month, it decided to endorse the campaign now, Heath said.

Foes of the gay-rights bill will have 90 days after the Legislature officially adjourns next week to collect the necessary signatures.

The league has about 4,000 members, including about 280 churches.

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