We all have different ideas about what makes Maine a special place.

Some would argue it’s the 3,400-mile coastline and still-wild wooded places. Some say that it’s the independent character of its people.

A think tank that analyzes policies that affect people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender has a different superlative: Maine is No. 1 when it comes to equality because no state has done more to protect LGBT people from discrimination.

According to the Movement Advancement Project, Maine stands out for its civil rights laws, which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity; its health care regulations, which prevent insurance companies from discriminating against people who are transgender, and its family law protections, which don’t discriminate against same-sex couples in marriage or adoptions.

In addition to those protections, Maine also receives high scores for not having any laws that let individuals and secular businesses ignore civil rights laws based on their professed religious beliefs.

Maine’s status as an equal rights leader will probably not come as a surprise to many Mainers. It’s been a long time since three hard-fought referendum campaigns to include sexual orientation in the Maine Human Rights Act and two marriage-equality referenda were regular ballot items between 1998 and 2012.

Enough time has passed to prove that the grave warnings made by opponents have not come to pass. Employers and landlords have not been driven out of business by lawsuits filed to enforce “special rights,” and opposite-sex couples are still getting married, even though same-sex couples can also form families.

Last year , only 3 percent of cases filed with the Maine Human Rights Commission were for discrimination based on sexual orientation and less than 1 percent of cases were for gender identity discrimination. These laws have gone from being the most contested battlefield in the culture wars to a subject that doesn’t spark much of an argument. The fight is over.

Recently, the Legislature has passed a number of LGBT-friendly laws, and with the exception of the ban on so-called conversion therapy, none of them has been controversial. Last year a bill that eliminated the “gay panic” defense in assault cases passed unanimously in the Senate and 132-1 in the House.

The fact that these laws exist doesn’t mean that there is no discrimination in Maine. Matt Moonen, executive director of Equality Maine, rightly points out that the law is just a baseline, and it doesn’t guarantee that everyone will be treated fairly.

But now the work now is happening on the local level, making sure LGBT people can safely attend school and go to work in every corner of the state. Instead of organizing statewide referendum campaigns, Equality Maine is helping schools create anti-bullying programs and support groups, or consulting with businesses that have hired their first employee who is transgender. There are people who say they are uncomfortable with how quickly things are changing, but the experience of the last two decades should assure them that they don’t lose anything when other people are treated equally. There is enough equality to go around.

It’s hard to notice something that is not happening, but the broad acceptance of LGBT rights in Maine and the nation has to be considered a major social achievement of the last 20 years.

And Maine’s No. 1 ranking on the Movement Advancement Project’s list is another thing that can be added to the list of things that make Mainers proud of their state.


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