AUGUSTA - A Portland lawmaker expressed optimism Friday about prospects for passage of a bill to extend legal protections against discrimination to homosexuals.
''Frankly, I wish passage of this bill were not necessary but, sadly, that is not the case,'' Republican State Sen. Joel Abromson said.
''We need to send a strong message that it is no longer permissible to allow discrimination against gays and lesbians when they fill out a job application, wish to buy a house or rent an apartment, want to eat in a public restaurant or apply for credit,'' Abromson said.
The bill sponsored by Abromson would amend state law to specify that ''sexual orientation'' could not be used to justify discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations and credit.
Currently, state law offers anti-discrimination protections in those areas in cases involving race, color, religion, sex, age, ancestry or national origin and physical or mental disability. Abromson's bill exempts religious groups.
''I have every confidence this bill will pass the Senate,'' Abromson said. ''I took special care to exempt religious organizations from this proposal to remove those concerns from this debate. My proposal has support from Gov. King and I am hopeful that we can marshal enough votes in the House for passage as well.''
Among the co-sponsors of the legislation are the chairmen of the Judiciary Committee that will review it, Sen. Susan Longley, D-Liberty, and Rep. Richard Thompson, D-Naples.
Co-sponsors include five Democrats and five Republicans, with four from the Senate and six from the House.
Also pending before the Judiciary Committee is a citizen initiative to ban same-sex marriage in Maine. The proposal was sponsored by Concerned Maine Families.
The initiative, which would go before state voters unless enacted by the Legislature, includes language declaring that ''persons of the same sex may not contract marriage.'' It also would require the state to refuse to recognize such marriages performed in other states.
Both houses of the Legislature approved a gay-rights bill for the first time in 1993, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. John R. McKernan. King has said he would sign it.
In 1995, Maine voters rejected a ballot question to restrict gay rights. The measure initiated by Concerned Maine Families was turned back, 53 percent to 47 percent.
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