The sponsor of a gay rights bill and the co-chairmen of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee all predict that the bill will be approved this session.
''On the Senate side, I think it will pass easily,'' said Sen. Joel Abromson, R-Portland, sponsor of the bill. Sen. Susan W. Longley, D-Liberty, a Judiciary co-chairman, agreed.
''I think that's going to pass,'' Rep. Richard H. Thompson, D-Naples, said of the bill's prognosis in the House. Thompson, a Judiciary co-chairman, said a ''tremendous number'' of civic groups, business groups and other organizations are likely to speak for the bill when the Judiciary Committee holds a public hearing in March. No date has yet been set for the hearing.
The bill, sponsored by Abromson as well as Longley, Thompson and several other lawmakers, would include sexual orientation among categories protected by the Maine Human Rights Act.
The law now prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disabilities, religion, ancestry or national origin, and age. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited only in Portland and Long Island under local ordinances there.
Thompson said one factor that bodes well for the bill's passage this year is the Democratic majority in the Legislature. ''It's an issue which the Democrats have traditionally supported,'' he said.
The gay rights proposal also is not as contentious as it could be, because many legislators are familiar with the issue and the debate. New, unfamiliar notions typically are met with greater caution by lawmakers.
Despite these advantages, Longley said she and other supporters of the bill will continue to educate and persuade other legislators on the bill's merits. They will give particular attention to freshmen House members who weren't present for past legislative debates on the issue.
''I'm one who errs on the side of caution and does the extra work, and we have the time, so we'll do the work,'' she said.
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