MARTIN LUTHER KING'S NIECE LEADS AUGUSTA RALLY OF GAY-RIGHTS FOES
By TESS NACELEWICZ
Staff Writer ©Copyright 1998 Guy Gannett Communications
AUGUSTA - A niece of Martin Luther King Jr. got about 300 people down on their knees in the state capitol Thursday to pray that homosexuals would "turn from their wicked ways" and seek Jesus Christ.
"God hates racism and God hates homosexuality," Alveda King told the group in a speech after leading them in prayer.
King tours the country speaking out against civil-rights legislation for gay men and lesbians. She was in Maine to speak about next Tuesday's referendum on the state's new law.
The ballot question will ask voters whether they want to repeal the law passed by the Legislature last spring to prohibit discrimination against gay people.
King, who says gay people have never suffered the discrimination that black Americans have, was the featured speaker for what became the biggest event to date for the "vote-yes" campaign.
The hour-long rally, which included scores of sign-carrying "yes" supporters and speeches by men who said they are former homosexuals, was criticized by opponents. They said it showed that supporters of the measure are bringing in outsiders to tell Mainers what to do.
"We have (King) from Atlanta, coming to Maine and telling us that discrimination is OK," said Joe Cooper, a spokesman for Maine Won't Discriminate, the group leading the "vote-no" campaign.
Maine Won't Discriminate issued a press release that included a 1996 letter from Coretta Scott King, the wife of the slain civil rights leader, in which she says she supports protecting gay people from job discrimination.
"Like Martin," Coretta King wrote, "I believe you cannot stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others."
Thursday's rally was by far the most visible event in what has been a low-key, low-budget campaign by referendum supporters.
The chief organizers of the rally were the Christian Coalition of Maine and the Christian Civic League of Maine, the two conservative groups that prompted Tuesday's vote by gathering more than 59,000 petition signatures.
Their petition drive began last summer, soon after the Legislature passed the law and Gov. Angus King signed it. The law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in regard to jobs, housing, credit and public accommodations.
Voters will decide Tuesday whether they want the law to take effect.
Those trying to repeal the law originally said they would campaign behind the scenes, reaching out to supporters in churches and through mailings and phone calls.
But they announced this week that they will run television commercials starting Sunday. And Thursday's rally at the Hall of Flags was covered by television, radio and print media.
The rally drew referendum supporters ranging from children to the elderly.
It began with a speech by state Rep. Adam Mack, R-Standish. He and leaders of the Maine Libertarian Party recently formed a group supporting repeal, called Citizens Against Regulatory Excess for Maine.
Mack said the law would take local control of the issue away from Lewiston and other communities that don't want gay-rights ordinances. Lewiston voters repealed that city's gay-rights ordinance in 1993.
Another speaker was the Rev. Arthur Gay of the First Baptist Church in Portland, past president of the National Association of Evangelicals. He said the new law will "exclude people of biblical orientation" who believe that homosexuality is wrong.
Alveda King, the featured speaker, is part of an organization called "King for America," which has actively opposed gay-rights laws nationwide.
"Let's not confuse the issue by saying racism and gay rights are the same," she said.
Then, she added, "Actually they are the same. Racism is bad and homosexuality is bad."
Alveda King, who said she is a granddaughter, daughter and niece of Baptist preachers, said that God loves homosexuals but not homosexual behavior.
She claimed that homosexuality is not an immutable characteristic like skin color, and said that gay people hadn't experienced horrors such as lynching.
Also at the rally was state Sen. John J. Jenkins, D-Lewiston, who voted in favor of the new law last spring.
Jenkins, who is black, spoke to reporters afterward, saying he disagreed with Alveda King's views.
Jenkins said that he also is a child of a Baptist minister, and that he got a different religious message from his upbringing: "Equal rights for everyone."
Paul Nagy, northeast regional director of the Christian Coalition, compared this campaign to the story of David and Goliath, because opponents have raised about $420,000 and supporters have raised less than half that.
But Nagy said the "vote-yes" campaign has a growing grass-roots momentum.
"I say that David has found the rock, he's put it in the slingshot, and look out, it's coming."
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