Maine GayNet - Conservative Groups Seek Petition Support

Thursday July 17, 1997

Conservative Groups Seek Petition Support

Hope to send gay rights law to popular vote

By J.T. Leonard

FALMOUTH - Two volunteers spent last Friday afternoon (July 11th) outside Shaw's Supermarket in the Falmouth Shopping Center, soliciting support for a petition to send the state legislature's recent extension of civil rights to homosexuals to referendum in November.

Roughly 52,000 signatures are needed stateide to put the new law to a popular vote next fall. The campaign is jointly sponsored by the Christian Civic League of Maine and the state's chapter of the Christian Coalition.

The man and woman outside the supermarket refused to discuss the issue on the record, divulge their names or have their faces pictured in The Forecaster because, the woman said, they had been instructed to refer all questions and news media to the conservative organizations' headquarters.

But according to Paul Volle, director of the state's Christian Coalition chapter no official ban on comments to the media was handed down to volunteer circulators. In fact, he said, the circulators were given the choice whether or not to speak based on concerns for their own safety.

"What we suggested to folks in the field was that if they felt uncomfortable talking to the press, they could refer questions to us [official spokespeople at organization headquarters)," Volle said.

"They're just common folks who've never had to deal with that before, and it makes them a bit nervous especially since ACT UP [AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power] has been known to target specific individuals before."

Since the petition drive was officially announced on July 4, Volle told The Forecaster as many as 1,100 volunteers have agreed to collect 60 signatures each. "We need roughly 52,000 signatures, but our goal is to get 60,000," he said. "The state's deadline is mid-September, but our deadline is August 22 because it takes a few weeks for processing."

A little more than 2,000 signatures have already been collected and certified, he added. On Friday - their first day outside the Falmouth Shopping Center - the signature-soliciting pair said responses to their requests had been "fair" before declining further comment. Petitions for Falmouth, Cumberland and Portland residents sat on the table in front of them. Falmouth's pages contained 10-20 names by early afternoon; the others were empty.

Michael S. Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said the two groups are maintaining close communication and "talking regularly." But he said serious coordination between them won't be orchestrated until the petition drive closes and the state-wide campaign begins.

"The full campaign office is not in session at the moment," Heath said. "The dog days of summer are having their effect.

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