Column: M.D. Harmon
FEB. 10 REFERENDUM
Campaign against 'people's veto' turns down and dirtyWhy vote 'yes'? Look at the 'no' side closely.
©Copyright 1998 Guy Gannett Communications
The effort to defeat the ''people's veto'' referendum Feb. 10 to overturn Maine's new gay rights law is now in full cry. So let's look at what we're being told - and not being told - about it.
First, we can learn something from the intense personal attacks on Michael Heath, head of the Christian Civic League and the point man in the veto campaign.
Heath, who is one of the most civilized, honorable, decent guys I know, is undergoing (as he knew he would) the most vicious, dishonorable, deceitful campaign against his reputation, character and sincere beliefs that I have ever seen anywhere on any political issue.
His basic beliefs are in the absolute mainstream of his faith's teachings and practice, not only now but historically. Yet he - and by extension everyone who holds those beliefs - is being not merely criticized, but demonized.
That demonstrates a couple of things: First, the adage that people attack personalities when they run out of arguments remains as true as ever. Second, it should show Mainers of all perspectives just how thin the veneer of ''tolerance'' actually is among those liberals who shout it the loudest.
Traditional believers of all faiths can now see clearly just how despised they and their beliefs are among this crowd. Imagine what it will be like if these people get a gay rights law they can use to do some serious legal beating of the people who disagree with them. It will get very grim indeed.
Nationally, where gay rights laws or the attitudes behind them prevail, we have no lack of grimness:
In Seattle in 1994, Bryan Griggs, a small-business owner, had a complaint filed against him by an employee under that city's gay rights ordinance. The employee claimed Griggs had created ''a hostile work environment'' by - get this - playing a radio tuned to a conservative talk show that carried his firm's advertisements and keeping a note on his own desk critical of homosexual adoptions. Though the complaint was eventually dismissed, Griggs spent thousands of dollars defending himself and lost considerable business.
In Boston two years ago, George Varoudakis, a bar owner, objected to a group of homosexuals who entered his establishment and began hugging and kissing in front of his other patrons - not casually, but, as one of the group announced, to make an intentional public statement. Varoudakis was fined $30,000 and went bankrupt, losing his bar.
There are hundreds of similar cases around the country, and Maine's law could be even worse - especially since legislators rejected amendments backed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland that could have helped protect freedoms of speech and conscience. Other New England states - including New Hampshire - incorporated those protections, but Maine didn't.
Instead of being told to emulate usually conservative New Hampshire (surely the first time Mainers have been so advised by our liberals), why shouldn't we follow the example of Washington state? It's no right-wing haven, but in November voters there defeated a statewide gay rights law by a 60-40 margin. Maybe they just had enough of what happened to Griggs and people like him.
Instead of heeding the demand to ''join the rest of New England'' by approving such a law, Mainers may want to stay with the rest of America, where 80 percent of the states do not have gay rights laws.
The Catholic Diocese, too, has been criticized for remaining on the sidelines in this campaign, unlike two years ago when it opposed a referendum that would void local gay rights ordinances. But perhaps Catholics have learned a lesson.
Recall how gay rights backers boasted of Catholic support in their successful campaign against Question 1 in 1995? But in 1997, when Catholics proposed their protective amendments, they were repaid for that support with a swift kick in the teeth. Maybe one kick was enough.
Finally, you should also recall the opponents' principal objection to Question 1 - that it would void ''local control'' on this issue.
Well, Lewiston's voters turned down a gay rights ordinance a few years back - but their vote is rendered completely void if this law survives the Feb. 10 referendum.
No Maine community other than Portland has ever voted in favor of a gay rights ordinance. And if this law isn't overturned, no Maine community will ever have a chance to vote on one again.
There's a reason why no ''local control'' enthusiast of 1995 will dare breathe those words in 1998. They want you to forget them, because they never really meant them at all.
Both ''local control'' on gay rights, and any pretense of tolerance for principled disagreement, will go out the window unless Mainers vote ''yes'' on Feb. 10.
- M.D. Harmon (e-mail) is an editorial page writer and editor for The Portland Newspapers.
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