Maine passes gay rights law

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The new law takes effect June 30 in the state of Maine (highlighted).

With the stroke of a pen, Gov. John Baldacci of Maine signed into law a gay rights bill that extended legal protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The new law does not legalize same-sex marriage.

Known officially as "LD 1196," the bill's wording adds the term sexual orientation to the list of protected classes in the Maine Human Rights Act banning discrimination in employment, housing, education, credit, and public accommodations. The bill was passed by the Maine House of Representatives by a vote of 91-58 Wednesday. The State Senate approved the bill the same day by a vote of 25-10.

Already protected classes under the state's human rights act are gender, age, religion, race, and physical and mental disability. Additional language was added to LD 1196 before it passed clarifying that it would not extend marriage rights to same-sex couples and exempts privately-funded religious groups from having to comply with its provisions. The new law takes effect June 30.

Government official said the new law is needed to send a message. The office of the Maine Attorney General says that the number of hate crimes against gays and lesbians increased by 12 percent in 2003. Baldacci said those figures underscore why the new law is needed.

"This act not only offers essential civil rights, but serves as a welcome," Baldacci said in a press conference after signing the new law. "Our doors are open to all people. This is a proud day for Maine."

But at least one group is organizing to stop the new gay rights law in its tracks. According to reports, the Christian Civic League of Maine has filed initial paperwork to put a voter initiative on the November 2005 general election ballot to overturn the new law.

The group must get at least 50,519 valid signatures from registered voters of the state by a June 28 deadline. Michael Heath, executive director of the group, told the Associated Press that the League has a goal of 70 thousand valid signatures and hopes to raise $2 million to fund a campaign, called a "people's Veto," to repeal the new law.