EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series previewing the Nov. 8 election.
AUGUSTA, Maine (BP)–When Maine citizens go the polls Nov. 8, they will have the chance to do something conservatives in other states can only dream about doing — vetoing a “sexual orientation” law passed by the legislature.
Maine is one of a handful of states that allow citizens to gather signatures in an attempt to override laws passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. In Maine, it’s called the “people’s veto.”
This time around, the issue is a new state law that gives homosexuality civil rights status by placing “sexual orientation” alongside age, religion, race and other classes in state law. Under the new law — which was signed by Democratic Gov. John Baldacci in March — a person cannot be discriminated against in employment, housing, education or public accommodations on the basis of their sexual preference.
A “yes” vote on Question 1 would repeal the law — something which has been done twice before. In 1998 Maine citizens vetoed a similar law, and in 2000 the legislature sent a proposal directly to the people, who rejected it.
Conservatives are particularly troubled by how “sexual orientation” is defined under state law: “Sexual orientation means a person’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity or expression.”
So, what does that mean? Tim Russell, legislative liaison for the pro-family group Christian Civic League of Maine, said the definition could be far-reaching in protecting various classes of homosexuality — including cross-dressers.
“What this means is that it would permit a man to show up at work or school in a dress and makeup and use the women’s room and the shower facilities,” Russell told Baptist Press.
Although the law protects churches, it does not protect the religious freedoms of individual citizens — for example, a Christian business owner or a Christian landlord. Under the law, a Christian landlord who owns only a handful of apartments and wishes to rent them to married couples could be forced to rent to two homosexual men.
“At what point does society decide where somebody’s rights stop and somebody else’s rights begin?” Russell asked.
Conservative groups argue that the law puts the state on the wrong side of a controversial issue — whether homosexuality is an unchangeable characteristic. A statement on the conservative Coalition for Marriage’s website says homosexuals already “enjoy the rights granted to all citizens” and that it is “fundamentally wrong to elevate a chosen behavior, sexual or otherwise, to the status of a legally protected minority.” Coalition for Marriage, which is the pro-family group in Maine opposing the new law, points to the thousands if not millions of people who have left homosexuality altogether.
According to the homosexual activist group Human Rights Campaign, 16 states, including Maine, and the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation.”
Question 1 was placed on the ballot when two groups — the Christian Civic League of Maine and the Maine Grassroots Coalition — collected 56,600 valid signatures, which was more than the 50,519 required.
Russell says he fears the new law — if not vetoed — will lead to legalized “gay marriage” in the state.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that that is exactly what this is for,” he said of the law. “And that’s the issue across the country — if you look at the states where they have the sexual orientation laws on the books.”
Massachusetts, where “gay marriage” is legal, has a “sexual orientation” law, as do Connecticut and Vermont, both of which have adopted same-sex civil unions. Civil unions provide most of the legal benefits of marriage.
Maine conservatives have limited options in preventing the legalization of “gay marriage.” A marriage amendment would protect the natural definition of marriage, but state law says constitutional amendments must initiate within the state legislature, which thus far has been cold to the idea.
Although Maine conservatives defeated the “sexual orientation” proposal in 2000 — by a margin of 51-49 percent — the landscape has since changed. Maine’s neighbor to the north — Canada — legalized “gay marriage” this year, while its New England neighbors also have granted homosexuals the legal benefits of marriage.
Polls show the conservatives losing on Question 1. In addition, Russell said the “other side is outspending us exponentially.”
But Russell isn’t giving up. In 2000, polls also showed conservatives losing in the weeks leading up to the election.
Russell hopes history repeats itself.
— Additional information about the vote in Maine is available at www.coalitionformarriage.net.
— For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage