Thursday January 15, 1998


by Jeff Epperly

It's hard enough to imagine the difficulties being endured by our neighbors in Maine after last week's ice storm paralyzed the state, left 500,000 households without power and caused President Clinton to declare the entire region a disaster area. But try to imagine that, on top of living through the ice and bitter cold yourself, you are also charged with the task of contacting your fellow residents and asking them to pause in their hardships and think about something far from their minds: gay civil rights.

That is the thankless task now before fair-minded residents of Maine who are scrambling to devise ways to reach others like them and get them out to vote Feb. 10 in support of the state gay and lesbian civil rights law. The Christian Civic League of Maine, in cahoots with the national organizations of the radical religious Right, is forcing Maine voters to decide civil rights by referendum and whether they will repeal that fairly enacted civil rights law

It's often been predicted that if the Bill of Rights were put up to a popular vote by the American public without being told on what they were voting it would go down easily to defeat mostly because civil rights opponents would tap into America's bottomless well of resentment and paint the document as entaling "special rights." Putting the rights of a minority up to a vote of the majority is almost always a losing proposition because it is precisely that majority from which the minority needs protection.

But activists in Maine won over a majority of their neighbors during the battle over that state's Amendment 2-style prohibition on gay and lesbian civil rights laws, mostly through the sheer force of educating those neighbors through the media and through one-on-one encounters with lesbians and gay men who look and talk just like them. They could do it again Feb. 10; but Mother Nature has intervened to strike a nasty blow that makes educating many people in Maine about anything other than survival and clean-up a losing proposition.

Once the state has recovered from the ice storm a barrage of commercials and print ads in the closing days before the referendum will be needed to make-up for the time lost to the elements. But that will take a lot of money, much of which will have to be obtained from the larger body of lesbians and gay men in more urban areas. That's where all of us come in.

This is a battle that should not be lost, mostly because the Maine gay and lesbian civil rights law does not grant special rights to anyone, but rather makes certain that lesbians and gay men in the state should be judged solely on their character and accomplishments. But those of us who live elsewhere should note that this referendum is part of an ongoing, nationwide campaign of intimidation and retribution by the radical Right against gays and pro-gay legislation. If they win in Maine, it will only embolden them to try elsewhere: Will Rhode Island be next? Perhaps Vermont? And don't think it can't happen in Massachusetts.

This battle is but one battle in a larger war that is demeaning and grueling for all of us. But as with all cultural battles involving the radical Right, the only defeat they truly understand is a defeat by the majority - by their peers rejecting their hatred. Another win in Maine can be realized if the obstacles posed by last week's storm are surmounted by the rest of us who, while we are weary of the fight, will not accede one inch of territory.

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