Press

Victory In Maine

Date: 
November 07, 1995

Anti-Gay Inititiative Defeated

Citizens of Maine rejected the latest -- and what some are calling "new and improved" -- attempt by the Radical Right to deny gays, lesbians and bisexuals protections against discrimination and equal rights.

With 71% of the votes counted, gay and lesbian activists in Maine declared victory tonight over Measure One -- announcing that voters rejected, by 53.5%, Measure One, which would have overturned existing anti-discrimination laws for gays as well as permanently prohibited the passage of any such protections in future. Although only Portland and Long Island have anti- discrimination laws, Measure One would also have repealed any anti- discrimination protections in the state's university and college system, and gutted the state hate crimes law by removing sexual orientation.

The Maine measure represents a dramatic evolution of the Radical Right's campaign to deny gay people protection. It is the first such statewide ballot initiative east of the Mississippi. Test marketed in the western states of Idaho, Oregon and Colorado, the Far Right is now exporting the ballot measures to the East.

In addition, it reflects a new strategy in terms of its wording. Taking a cue from the legal problems encountered by Colorado's anti-gay rights referendum, the Maine measure does not specify "homosexuals" and is not a constitutional amendment. Instead, it creates a short list of who is included in civil rights laws and who is not, who is protected against discrimination and, by omission, who is vulnerable. Those left off the list include gays and lesbians, low income people, whistle blowers, workmen's compensation claimants, hunters, veterans, those seeking public assistance, and many others.

The measure asked, "Do you favor the changes in Maine law limiting protected classifications in future, state and local laws to race, color, sex, physical and mental disability, religion, age, ancestry, national origin, familial status, and marital status, and repealing existing laws which expand these classifications as proposed by citizen petition?

Today, the voters of Maine have repudiated this new, anti-democratic strategy of the Radical Right. They were not confused nor frightened by the rhetoric of "special rights." Gay people do not seek anything special, only the same basic rights as all Americans, including the right to work and live free of discrimination on the job and in our housing.

Maine is a fiercely independent state, reflected in its culture and in its state and Congressional politics. This divisive measure was written and supported by outsiders -- in particular Bruce Fein, a right-wing lawyer in Virginia who has worked with radical right groups in other states. It was drafted to be intentionally confusing. That's why more than 70 state business, religious, educational and political groups and leaders opposed it.

Let this be a mandate to Concerned Maine Families and other Radical Right forces considering anti-gay ballot measures elsewhere: The American public is catching on to your measures of hate and polarization. A majority of citizens oppose discrimination against gay people. Voters will not fall victim to campaigns of distortion and mistruths.

The battle against Measure One was significant for what it portends for the future. NGLTF campaign consultant Susan Hibbard, in the field in Maine, reports an unparalleled grassroots educational and visibility campaign in all 16 counties has changed the way the state views its gay, lesbian and bisexual citizens. The isolation and fear of being gay, especially in rural places, has been altered by new-found and strengthened visibility and support for gays and our allies at the forefront of this battle. So many people came to our side to help. They proclaimed, "This issue brought me out." Indeed, the ballot measure may have even backfired against the Radical Right. Intended to push gays and lesbians back into the closet, it instead galvanized us and our supporters.

But we know the Radical Right does not give up easily. As long as it remains acceptable to discriminate, scapegoat and stigmatize gays in America, they will continue to advocate intolerance. The people of Maine must remain vigilant. Gay, lesbian and bisexual people must come out every day to carry on the education campaign of who we are and what we really seek, and not just during the campaign. Citizens must reject discrimination. Our victory -- while ecstatic -- is tempered with the fact the Radical Right has forced us to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to battle this measure when instead we could have used it for health care for all citizens, gay youth services, hate crimes victims, AIDS education and other services that build communities instead of tearing them apart.

Now, we look to the future. The victory over Measure One offers us a tremendous potential to seize the momentum and pass a statewide non- discrimination law in Maine. The law was recently introduced in the state legislature by Dale McCormick. Originally passed in 1993 but vetoed by then conservative governor Kiernan, the bill can capture the new-found awareness of the extent of real discrimination and persecution suffered by the gay and lesbian citizens of Maine. Governor Angus King, a huge supporter of the No On 1 campaign, is expected to sign such legislation.

Our battle for equality -- our struggle to transform how society thinks and votes on us -- is ongoing and is not defined by the beginning and end of ballot campaigns. Today we celebrate our victory. We salute the campaign workers of Maine Won't Discriminate and every gay, lesbian, bisexual and non-gay person who stood up to be counted. Tomorrow we rest and heal. The day after that we pick up the mantel again and continue our fight.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.