An Exchange of Letters
From the Maine State Democratic e-mail newletter October 1997:
VIEW FROM THE CHAIR
I want to devote this week's column to reproducing an exchange of letters between myself and Michael Heath, the leader of the campaign to overturn this year's important civil rights bill, "An Act To Prevent Discrimination". The two letters are reproduced here in full; they are self-explanatory.
THE CHRISTIAN CIVIC LEAGUE OF MAINE
Bringing a Biblical Perspective to the Dialogue Over public Policy
October 8, 1997
Mr Christopher Hall, chair
Maine Democratic Party
Dear Mr Hall:
In a recent "Message from the Chair" you addressed the issue of gay rights. I want to offer a brief response to this press release in which you describe us as "well-organized hate-mongers" who want to "impose our warped views on any segment of the community we choose to target." You also call us homophobic, prejudiced, misguided and powerful.
While your adjectives and characterizations are certainly clorful, they are not accurate. They do serve to popularize a stereotype, however, of groups and individuals who fell differently than you and your party feel about providing special anti-discrimination protections to people based on their sexual practices.
I am at a loss to understand your attack on us as "homophobic." I have used religious imagery and language to express my observations about public policy decisions that involve human sexuality. I am not, however, aware of being afraid of people who are open about their sexual practices. I also strive not to practice prejudice.
With respect to your description of us as powerful I must offer the following observation. I have no interest in political power or human power. I do have an interest in acting on my convictions. Convictions that are consistent with the Bible's description of right and wrong. Convictions that are not inconsistent with the democratic procedures of this country.
Mr. Hall, we have not done anything that deserves such a vicious response.
We have merely exercised our right to discagree with your view of the relationship between law and human sexuality. You have every right to say what you have said and believe what you believe. Your efforts, and the efforts of your party, to act on your convictions are praiseworthy.
We will continue to present our view of this whole matter just as we have for the past couple of decades and the voters will make a decision at the polls in a few months. While we may disagree with their decision, we will respect it nonetheless.
We are thankful for the many positive contributions that the Democratic Party has made to the common good in Maine. Prayerfully, we will disciver many opportunities to collaborate on good works in coming months and years.
Thank you for your consideration.
MAINE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
Mr Michael Heath
The Christian Civic League of Maine
P.O. Box 5459
Dear Mr Heath,
Thank you for your courteous letter of October 8th, which I received yesterday, and which deserves an equally clear and thoughtful response.
The language of the Act your group seeks to recall, L.D. 1116 (Public Laws of Maine, 1997, chapter 205, An Act to Prevent Discrimination), is as clear as language can be. It adds the words "sexual orientation" to the list of characteristics of persons that may not be used as grounds to discriminate against them in employment, housing, access to public accommodations, or extension of credit. That list of characteristics therefore now includes: "… race, color, sex, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, religion, ancestry or national origin…."
This statute cannot be read by any court or lawyer, or indeed any person reading the plain text of the law, as conferring a special status on any person. I, for one, have a race, a color, a sex, a sexual orientation, a religion, an ancestry, a (foreign) national origin, and my wife often questions my physical and mental ability. I imagine you are in a similar position. Neither of us wishes to be discriminated against for, for example, being white, male, or Christian; but we do not claim "special rights" in asserting our immunity from discrimination on such grounds.
Sadly, you have already made your case using the language of "special rights", the same phrase used two years ago in the previous campaign against local rights ordinances. In your letter, you use the phrase "providing special anti-discrimination protections to people based on their sexual preferences."
By attempting to define the rights of gay people as "special", unlike the rights of all other people, you convey the clear message that they are not automatically entitled to the same equal protection of the law as all other Americans. To claim that persons should not be protected from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, while not - I infer from the silence - opposing protection on other grounds, sends a very clear message that you believe it is indeed legitimate and right to discriminate precisely on the grounds of sexual orientation.
I take you at your word in saying that you strive not to practice prejudice. Moreover I am certain that you do not personally believe the old lie that a homosexual orientation is somehow willfully chosen, as though around a tenth of people in every society known in history had conspired to choose a pattern of behavior. I therefore find a strange moral blindness in your taking a position that defines one group in society - and a group that does indeed suffer from prejudice and worse - as not being entitled to equal treatment. Whatever one's views on homosexuality, it is clear to persons without a moral or ideological position on the issue, such as the staff of the Attorney General's office, that acts of discrimination do indeed frequently take place in Maine against gay and lesbian Mainers.
These include not only the forms of civil discrimination outlawed under the new Act, but also acts ranging from petty insults and humiliations (which can only be effectively outlawed by good manners and public disgust) to attacks of despicable physical violence which are of course already fully prosecuted by the law. I hope you will agree that there are wrongs committed daily in Maine solely because of the fact (or the appearance) of the victims being gay or lesbian.
As long as acts of discrimination take place, political leaders have a duty to legislate and to speak out against it. But may I add a note as a Christian, rather than as a politically active person? I also believe, as an Episcopalian and as an active supporter of the Maine Council of Churches, that religious and other moral leaders, Christian and non-Christian, have a duty similar to that of politicians, to help right a clear and present wrong. Those Maine denominations, churches, clergy and laity supporting the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination follow the Christian doctrine of loving one's neighbor as oneself, and they recognize that the answer to the question "who is my neighbor?" must include those whom society scorns and reviles. It therefore troubles me personally, rather than politically, that your organization defends discrimination as a "Christian" position.
Like your own ancestors, I am an immigrant to Maine from England, who came here not in search of wealth - this is the wrong place for that! - but in search of a just, tolerant, democratic society of equal opportunity for all. I find it sad that Maine, along with some of the less tolerant and more divided states in the American deep south and west, contains people who still find it within themselves to hate people who are different from them. While my native England, like every other developed democracy, leaves behind discrimination against gay people as a shameful Victorian aberration, in Maine a sizable minority of people are still tolerating and indeed promoting hatred against gays. I use the word "hatred" with care, having already heard words like "abomination", "vice", and "deviant" used on talk radio and in letters to newspapers in this campaign.
I hope and pray that the Christian Civic League will attempt to conduct this campaign in the civil tone reflected in your letter. I recognize that you cannot control the language of your supporters any more than can the Democratic Party. But I urge you to consider the demons that you are playing with. Lending a respectable and moderate tone to a position that endorses discrimination may be good politics. Lending the name Christian, and the appearance of religious sanction, to a campaign that embraces hatred would be evil.
Though I do not expect either of us will convert the other, I am grateful for the chance to exchange views civilly, and I look forward to a chance to talk as we bump into each other around Augusta in the future. I also thank you for your observation that the Christian Civic League will respect the decision of the voters this time. Many Democrats are concerned that your campaign shows that the decision not to discriminate against gay and lesbian Mainers, taken by Maine voters in 1995, has not been respected.
Thank you for your consideration.
Maine Democratic State Committee.
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