LGBT NEWS: Gay Foes Use Same-Sex Marriage Fears In Bid To Repeal Civil Rights

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    Gay Foes Use Same-Sex Marriage Fears In Bid To Repeal Civil Rights
    by The Associated Press

    Posted: August 16, 2005 5:00 pm ET

    (Augusta, Maine) Maine is in the midst of its third referendum campaign in eight years to decide if gays should be given broad civil rights protections. And while the measure has nothing to do with same-sex marriage, conservatives are warning Maine could go the way of Massachusetts if gays are given more rights.

    "Absolutely," said Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, embracing the gay marriage connection. "This vote in November either sends us toward it or points us away from it."

    The dispute began after Gov. John Baldacci signed a new law in March that would extend the Maine Human Rights Act to make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and education.

    A conservative church-led alliance led a petition drive to demand a "people's veto" to reject it, and a vote is scheduled for November.

    Gay rights advocates denounce the gay-marriage tactic as a smoke screen. Maine law already bans gay marriage, and language approved by the Legislature says the anti-discrimination measure "may not be construed to create, add, alter or abolish any right to marry."

    "Look," says Jesse Connolly of the organization known as Maine Won't Discriminate, "the Christian Civic League knows they can't win an election based on the facts in this bill."

    Fifteen states - including the rest of New England - prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to Carrie Evans, state legislative director of the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign.

    But the matter still is open in Maine, where state law now prohibits discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, ancestry and national origin.

    Maine is "the battleground state for this issue on the national scene," Connolly says.

    Maine has long been fertile ground for social activists - from Prohibition adherents to back-to-the-land enthusiasts. These days, it has also become referendum-friendly, with hot-button issues from casino gambling to physician-assisted suicide going directly to voters.

    Maine's Human Rights Act was passed in 1971 and the political struggle over whether it should cover gays is decades-old.

    A 1997 law extending gay rights was narrowly repealed by a people's veto the following year. In 2000, voters were asked if they would ratify the Legislature's approval of another gay rights bill: The vote was 314,012 in favor and 318,846 against.

    This time, the debate has taken on a new overtone, with opponents linking the question of discrimination to the issue of same-sex marriage. At a rally in June, Heath and others assembled under a banner that said, "The Coalition for Marriage."

    Heath says granting more civil rights could open the door to to more sweeping interpretations when it comes to marriage.

    "That's the argument that's been used by judges in support of marriage rights," he said.

    Massachusetts is the only state to allow gay marriage. Eighteen states have passed constitutional amendments outlawing same-sex marriage. Two states, Vermont and most recently Connecticut, have legalized civil unions.

    Although Maine has a statute that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was rejected by lawmakers who said it was unnecessary.

    Last year, the state created a domestic-partner registry that covers both same-sex and heterosexual couples and allows them to inherit property and be designated as a guardian or next of kin.

    Whether the specter of gay marriage can bring down the gay rights law remains an open question. In a statewide poll in January, 37.5 percent supported full marriage rights for same-sex couples; another 31 percent backed civil unions but not gay marriage, according to the Strategic Marketing Services omnibus poll.

    For partisans, a legislative hearing in March demonstrated there is no common ground.

    Charla Bansley, state director of Concerned Women for America of Maine, said in written testimony that "what the homosexual activists are seeking is official social approval of the homosexual lifestyle."

    But Donna Minnis wrote that "the 'Gay Agenda' has indeed been revealed, and it bears a remarkable resemblance to the U.S. Constitution."


    ©Associated Press 2005
     

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