BY Liz Chapman
Sun-Journal Staff Writer
LEWISTON - A key leader in the drive to force a people's veto of Maine's new so-called "gay rights" law admitted Friday he doesn't think the campaign will succeed.
Although Mainers, when asked to support the veto effort, appear to support it overwhelmingly organizers say they haven't been able to recruit enough volunteers to scour the state for signatures, said Paul Madore of Lewiston.
Madore made his somber concession for the first time since Christian groups launched their veto effort in June. And while other campaign leaders have questioned the likelihood of success from the beginning, Madore's admission will be seen as significant because of his experience with referendum and repeal efforts.
Madore led the successful drive to repeal Lewiston's "gay rights" law in 1993, which surprised many observers because of the landslide nature of the vote. His group, the Coalition to End Special Rights, has joined the Christian Civic League of Maine and the state's chapter of the Christian Coalition to spearhead the veto drive.
"I don't think it's going to make it," Madore said. "I think in September we're going to be living with a gay rights law, and I say that with deep trepidation."
I don't see the kind of resolve we've had in previous efforts," nor the commitment that will be needed to succeed, he said.
Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League, admitted Madore's opinion could hurt the effort, especially if the hundreds of petition circulators get discouraged when they hear his prognosis.
But conversely, Heath said it might help inspire more people to help collect signatures if they think the effort is sinking.
Heath, meanwhile, said he's not ready to write off the veto drive.
"It's not where we wanted to be, but it's still too early to say it's over," Heath said. "I respect (Madore's} opinion ... he's been a leader on this issue for a long time ... but I think it's too early to make that assessment. We don't have enough information back from the field."
But what organizers are hearing from the signature collectors is that 90 percent of the people approached to sign the veto petition agree to do so, Heath said.
"So the challenge is not to get people to sign," Heath said. "The challenge is to find people to collect the signatures."
After 20 years of debate, the Legislature this year amended the Maine Human Rights Act to protect gays from discrimination in housing, public accommodations, credit and employment. The law already prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color and mental or physical handicap.
Madore and other critics insist gays don't need legal protections, since they believe there is no evidence that gays are being denied access to loans, homes or jobs based on their sexual orientation - an assertion strongly denied by advocates of the new law, including Gov. Angus King.
They also oppose the new law because of their beliefs that homosexuality is morally wrong and should not be recognized in any fashion.
Maine's constitution includes a provision allowing the general public to override actions by the Legislature. But the effort is always challenging because it allows only 90 days from the day the House and Senate recess for organizers to collect the required number of signatures. That's because the law takes effect 90 days after adjournment - barring a successful veto petition drive.
Madore and Heath must collect 51,131 signatures from registered voters, or 10 percent of the number of Mainers who voted in the last gubernatorial election.
Madore has been coordinating the people's veto effort in Androscoggin and Oxfbrd counties, and parts of Kennebec and Cumberland. He said 150 to 175 people have volunteered to collect signatures. But both Madore and Heath say they don't have as many people circulating petitions as they originally hoped. And without the ground troops to gather thousands of valid signatures by Sept. 15, the November veto vote appears unlikely.
"The will is there (to oppose the new law), but everybody thinks it's the other guy's job" to collect the signatures, Madore said.
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