State to rule Monday on anti-gay rights signatures
By Steven G. VeghMainers will learn Monday whether or not they'll face an anti-gay rights referendum, but gay rights advocates already are organizing as though a referendum will be held.
©Copyright 1997 Guy Gannett Communications
Secretary of State Dan A. Gwadosky will announce Oct. 20 whether organizers of the ''peoples' veto'' gathered the 51,131 petition signatures required to hold the referendum. The referendum would give voters an opportunity to veto gay rights legislation approved last spring by the Legislature and the governor.
Workers in Gwadosky's department have reviewed the petitions since Sept. 18 to ensure that enough signatures are valid. Referendum organizers say they gathered 58,750, which provides a safety margin to offset any disqualified signatures.
No information about the review will be released before Gwadosky makes the official announcement at 10 a.m. Monday in Augusta, Assistant Secretary of State Rebecca Wyke said Tuesday.
If Gwadosky says the referendum can proceed, gay rights supporters will immediately begin their own review of the petitions to prove that signatures, or the way in which they were collected, are invalid. They would have five days to do so.
''While we have great faith in the secretary of state's office, we think it's important to check some of the things they don't check,'' said Karen Geraghty, who is managing the anti-referendum campaign. She refused to say specifically what those checkpoints would be.
Wyke said referendum opponents already have contacted her office about photocopying petitions for review as soon as Gwadosky has announced his ruling Monday.
Any evidence that the petitions are invalid would be used by the referendum opponents as grounds for filing a lawsuit contesting the secretary of state's approval of the referendum. The suit would then have to go to trial no later than 15 days after the suit was filed, Wyke said.
Geraghty is a Portland city councilor and is a lobbyist who contracts with various groups to represent them at the Legislature. Her clients have included the Maine Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance.
Geraghty also worked in 1995 with Maine Won't Discriminate. Maine Won't Discriminate is a coalition of groups formed to oppose Question One, an anti-gay rights referendum which was defeated by voters.
Geraghty said Maine Won't Discriminate is contacting past volunteers and coalition members to work against the people's veto.
She had no estimate on how much money may be spent to defeat a referendum. ''It's safe to say we'll spend whatever amount of money we need to spend to get our message out there,'' Geraghty said.
Meanwhile, the Christian Civic League of Maine and the Christian Coalition of Maine are in limbo while the state reviews the petitions. The groups are partners in initiating the referendum campaign.
Michael Heath of the Civic League said he did not know how much the referendum campaign may spend if the initiative goes forward.
He was unperturbed at the prospect of gay rights groups challenging the petition signatures.
''We welcome any appropriate scrutiny of the petitions and the signatures,'' he said.
Paul Volle of the Christian Coalition said he doubted that the five-day window set by state law would be long enough for referendum opponents to find anything that could support a legal challenge to the petitions.
Volle said it was too soon to tell what kind of assistance the referendum campaign could draw from groups outside of Maine. He said he expects to consult with organizations in other states which have previous experience in fighting gay rights laws.
Asked if his group would offer money, advice or other assistance to the referendum organizers, Steve Knudsen of the Family Research Council said only that the group would inform its constituents in Maine about the issues behind the referendum if it goes forward. The council is a national conservative organization that focuses on ''family issues.''
He also predicted that passage of the referendum would be an uphill battle.
''People in the U.S. support the underdog, and the way the issue will be framed is, 'we gay people are the underdog,' '' said Knudsen, who disputes that gays are underdogs in society.
Kim Mills, a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign, said her group was monitoring the referendum's progress. She said it is too early to say what assistance her organization could offer referendum opponents if the initiative goes ahead. The Human Rights Campaign is a national gay-rights advocacy group.
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