Gay-rights advocates challenge petitions
PETITION CLAIMSGay rights advocates said these were the types of errors they found in deciding that at least 15,000 signatures were invalid on petitions calling for an anti-gay-rights referendum:
- Petitions were circulated before the Legislature adjourned for the year, which is against state law.
- Petitions were improperly notarized.
- Some people forgot to sign their names.
- Signatures were duplicated
By Steven G. VeghGay-rights advocates challenged an impending anti-gay-rights referendum Monday by filing a lawsuit claiming that petitions calling for the vote were fatally flawed.
©Copyright 1997 Guy Gannett Communications
Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky declared Oct. 20 that two conservative Christian groups had gathered enough signatures to hold the referendum, which seeks to overturn the gay-rights law passed by legislators and signed by the governor last spring.
But Karen Geraghty, campaign manager for Maine Won't Discriminate, said her group found at least 15,000 signatures that were invalid for a variety of reasons. The lawsuit asks the court to order Gwadosky to revoke his approval of the referendum.
The suit was filed in Cumberland County Superior Court by three gay-rights advocates. State law prescribes that a trial be held before a judge be held. Gwadosky said a hearing must take place by Nov. 4.
State law requires the governor to set a date for a referendum soon after the secretary of state validates petitions and authorizes a referendum.
But Dennis Bailey, spokesman for Gov. Angus King, said the governor isn't sure if the legal challenge obligates him to postpone scheduling the election. Bailey said advice from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court may be sought.
The Christian Civic League of Maine and the Christian Coalition of Maine collaborated in gathering and submitting 65,256 petition signatures. Gwadosky's department verified 58,182 signatures, which exceeded the 51,131 needed to schedule a referendum.
Paul Volle of the Christian Coalition said the challenge didn't surprise him. He called it an exercise by the opposition to mobilize itself after being caught ''flat-footed'' by the success of the petition drive.
''I am surprised at the magnitude of the error they claim,'' Volle said. He predicted the challenge would fail.
The lawsuit was the fruit of 600 gay-rights advocates who scanned referendum petitions for errors in a seven-day, around the clock effort.
Geraghty said the biggest error uncovered was the circulation of petitions before the Legislature adjourned for the year. She said state law requires that legislators end their session for the year before petitions can be signed.
Other errors included duplicated petition signatures, improper notarization of petitions, and failure to sign the petition by some people who printed their names and addresses on the petition, she said.
Geraghty said Maine Won't Discriminate had staffing and computer equipment superior to that used by Gwadosky's office and was able to uncover invalid signatures that slipped through his review.
Gwadosky agreed that his office had fewer resources to do its review, but said he was confident his validation of the petitions would stand.
A big factor in that confidence is an opinion from the Attorney General's Office that there's nothing wrong with circulating petitions before the Legislature adjourns, he said. But he also acknowledged there is little legal case history on the point.
The legal challenge will not stop Maine Won't Discriminate from continuing to organize as though the referendum were already scheduled, Geraghty said.
''We are absolutely full-steam-ahead with the campaign mode. If we are unsuccessful in court, an election could be scheduled as soon as January,'' she said.
The three plaintiffs in the suit against Gwadosky are Kathleen A. Remmel, Marvin M. Ellison and Franklin L. Brooks, all of Portland. Remmel is the head of the middle school at Waynflete School; Ellison is a Christian ethics professor at Bangor Theological Seminary and a Presbyterian minister; and Brooks is a licensed clinical social worker.
Ellison said he became a plaintiff for two reasons.
''I am a gay man affected by this legislation, but I also am a Christian minister out of a tradition that has strongly supported civil rights protections for gays and lesbians for over 30 years,'' he said.
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