The Legislature this week gave bipartisan support to a bill to protect people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation, with the Christian Civic League vowing to launch a petition drive to overturn the law.

“Yes, we’re launching a people’s veto,” said Michael Heath, director of the Christian Civic League. The group would need to collect 60,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

“We’re finding it hard to believe the Legislature would be so arrogant,” he said, given that voters statewide have twice turned down the proposal in recent years. “They’re just being relentless and wearing everybody out.”

Gov. John Baldacci has opted against the referendum route this time, saying the Legislature should decide. The proposal has been before the Legislature in some form since 1977. It was last rejected by voters in 2000.

The vote in the Senate Monday was 25 to 10, with all 19 Democrats and 6 Republicans in favor. The House Tuesday night also passed the bill in a 88-62 vote, after Rep. Will Walcott, D-Lewiston, publicly admitted for the first time in the Legislature that he was gay.

“Everyone once in a while gets to be part of something important,” he said, explaining why he decided to come out and testify on behalf of the gay rights legislation.


The bill would add “sexual orientation” to the classes covered by the Maine Human Rights Act. That law already prohibits discrimination based on a person’s race, age, gender, religion or disability when it comes to employment, credit, housing, education and public accommodations.

Sen. Karl Turner, R-Cumberland, sponsored the governor’s bill, saying it was “flat wrong” that people could be fired or denied credit because of their sexual orientation.

“It’s not right, it’s not fair, and it should not stand,” he said.

The amendment was approved by the Judiciary Committee in a 9-4 vote last Thursday.

Committee member Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham, said, “discrimination has to stop,” so he was voting in favor of the bill. “I don’t see it as giving anybody extra rights,” he said, but rather protecting everybody’s civil rights.

Sen. Lynn Bromley, D-Cumberland, who voted in support of the bill, encouraged her fellow committee members to end the debate and take the vote because further discussion could lead to rancor, but it wasn’t going to change minds. “Let the votes fall where they may,” she said.


The committee’s vote was taken a day after an emotional public hearing, where hundreds of people came largely in support of the legislation, although heartfelt testimony was given on both sides.

Locals testify

Michael Stultz of Windham spoke against the bill.

“This legislation assumes within its definition of sexual orientation that homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism and transsexualism …are legitimate behaviors equivalent in dignity to that of heterosexuality,” he said. “It imposes a moral imperative on those of us who disagree.”

Stultz then asked where the line would be drawn on what he termed sexually deviant behavior.

“Why are we excluding the pedophiles?” from protection under the law, he asked, or a brother and sister or father and daughter who have sex together.


He called the bill the next step in establishing the “legal apparatus necessary” for same-sex marriage.

Daniel Peterson of Westbrook wrote in his testimony that he was involved in the Westbrook human rights controversy, where that city adopted its own ordinance to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

“The city of Westbrook was split right down the middle on this issue, and I am quite sure that a few years later, it is still equally divided.”

He encouraged Baldacci to delay passage of the bill for one year and instead set up a series of community forums with the goal of coming to a “principled compromise.”

“We have an opportunity to stop a war,” he said.

Annie Kiermaier of West Rockport said she and others were fearful of the hateful language being put out by those who opposed the legislation.

“We know that there are people in Maine who hate us and wish us ill because we believe that Maine citizens who are gay or lesbian need and deserve civil rights protection in Maine.”

A Brewer woman summed up the frustrations of those who have been waiting a long time to see the law expanded to outlaw discrimination against gay and lesbians.

“For Pete’s sake pass it! Thirty years is long enough,” she said.

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