- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Homosexual advocates pushing a referendum to make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal say conservatives are trying to scare residents into voting against it by linking it to same-sex “marriage.”

They say conservatives are warning Maine could go the way of Massachusetts, the only state to allow same-sex “marriage,” if homosexuals are given more rights.

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

The dispute began after Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, 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.

Homosexual rights advocates denounce the same-sex “marriage” tactic as a smoke screen. Maine law already bans homosexual “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,” said 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 is still 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,” Mr. Connolly said.

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 homosexuals is decades-old.

A 1997 law extending homosexual rights was narrowly repealed by a people’s veto the following year.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 homosexual rights bill: The vote was 314,012 in favor and 318,846 against.

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.

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