Press

Maine Repeals Civil Rights Law

Date: 
February 10, 1998

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) tonight expressed its disappointment at the outcome of the vote in Maine to reject a referendum that repealed the amendment to the state's civil rights law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The measure, known as the Maine Human Rights Act, was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Angus King last May. A conservative group led by members of the Christian Civic League of Maine and the state chapter of the Christian Coalition secured signatures to put the issue to a public vote, employing Maine's rarely used "people's veto" provision.

"The right wing again used a divisive campaign to sell the lie of 'special rights' at the ballot box," said Kerry Lobel, executive director of NGLTF. "We will continue our efforts to secure civil rights laws in every state."

This year's effort to defeat the measure was grassroots driven, with hundreds of volunteers making tens of thousands of phone calls in approximately one month's time. Tracey Conaty, NGLTF Field Organizer, was deployed in Maine for the past 5 weeks. Conaty assisted the field program of Maine Won't Discriminate, the organization that spearheaded the effort to defeat the measure.

"Our thanks go to the hard-working gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered activists in Maine who have now faced hostile statewide ballot measures twice in just over two years," continued Lobel. In November of 1995, voters rejected by a margin of 53 to 47 percent a statewide initiative that would have prohibited local and state statutes banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. "It's time to end the right-wing sponsored politics of division. We will continue to work with Maine and other states until equality is the law of the land."

Civil Rights Legislative Background Information

After tonight's repeal, only ten states have laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Maine's neighboring state of New Hampshire also passed a measure in 1997. Other states are Rhode Island (1995); Minnesota (1993); California, Vermont and New Jersey (1992); Hawaii and Connecticut (1991); Massachusetts (1989); and Wisconsin (1982). After this legislative year, nearly a quarter of the population of the country lives in states banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. There is no federal law banning such discrimination.

In the 1997 state legislative session, a total of 26 favorable civil rights bills were introduced in 21 states. Seven proactive bills were employment-only provisions, while 15 were omnibus bills covering employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit. The state of Washington became the first state to advocate for the passage of a favorable statewide civil rights ballot measure. Initiative 677 was on the November 1997 ballot and would have banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment in the state, however the measure did not pass. For a review of the 1997 state sessions, see NGLTF's report Capital Gains and Losses at http://www.ngltf.org/cgal97.

Already in the 1998 state legislative session, according to NGLTF, favorable civil rights legislation has been introduced in Maryland, Iowa, and the territory of Puerto Rico. More are expected as the legislative term progresses. For updates on the 1998 state sessions, see NGLTF's legislative updates, issued periodically throughout the session, at http://www.ngltf.org.

For a listing of states and cities with civil rights laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, see NGLTF's listing at http://www.ngltf.org/downloads/civil298.pdf.

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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.