GAY-RIGHTS REPEAL GROUP LAUNCHES ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN
By PETER POCHNA
The groups campaigning to repeal Maine's gay-rights law are launching statewide television and newspaper advertising with just a few days left before Mainers vote on the issue.
The ads try to raise concerns about issues such as gay counselors in the Boy Scouts, gay people adopting children, and teaching in schools that gay behavior is "normal."
The accuracy of the ads is open to debate. Even so, they are expected to give the anti-gay-rights side a boost.
"If you raise enough fears, and make them vague enough so that people's imaginations fly, then you can be effective," said Bill Coogan, a political science professor at the University of Southern Maine.
The question on Tuesday's ballot asks voters if they want to repeal the law passed last spring to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in credit, employment, housing and public accommodations.
A yes vote would kill the law. A no vote would allow the law to take effect 30 days after the election results become official.
The "vote yes" campaign will start running a television commercial statewide Sunday, said Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine and one of the campaign's leaders.
The campaign also will run advertisements in three of the state's largest daily newspapers, including The Portland Newspapers, to augment ads it has run in 21 weekly newspapers.
Heath said he would like to have advertised more over a longer period of time but did not have the money to do so. "If you have limited resources, the place to put (the ads) is in the final days of the campaign," he said.
Heath said the campaign's goal was to raise $300,000. He said it will likely raise about $150,000.
The campaign is spending about $20,000 on the television commercials.
It is trying to counter "vote-no" commercials that began airing last week and so far have cost more than $140,000.
The 60-second "vote yes" ad will feature Heath urging people to reject the gay-rights law. Heath declined to describe details of the ad. He said only that it continues the theme of his campaign's newspaper ads.
That theme is to raise concerns that the gay-rights law has implications that aren't readily apparent. For example, it suggests that the law could change what children are taught in school and require employers to offer benefits to partners of gay employees.
The ads are misleading, said Patricia Ryan, executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission and the person responsible for overseeing complaints that would be filed under the law.
"It strikes me as if the concerns being raised are being raised to scare people," said Ryan.
But Michael Poulin, a Lewiston lawyer, said most of the issues raised in the newspaper ads are valid.
"The problem is that the wording of the law is extremely vague," said Poulin, who represented the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland last spring in its effort to amend the law.
The ads raise concerns by posing a series of questions. They state that people who answer "yes" to the questions should reject the gay-rights law.
One question asks: "Should child welfare agencies be allowed to refuse placement of foster children with homosexuals?" Elizabeth Hood, a Portland lawyer who handles private adoptions, said she doesn't believe the law would affect adoption agencies.
A client who wants to become a parent is not an employee of an adoption agency and wouldn't be covered, she said.
But Poulin said the law's reference to "public accommodations" could cover adoption agencies. He said courts have interpreted public accommodations very broadly, essentially as any organization that provides services to the public.
He said that if Maine's gay-rights law takes effect, "it is more likely than not" that adoption agencies will have to offer their services to gay couples.
Another question raises the issue of teaching about gay lifestyles in school. It asks: "Should parents object to the teaching of homosexuality as a normal lifestyle in public schools?" Poulin said the question raises a legitimate issue because schools are included in the term "public accommodations."
"School curriculum is very much an open question," Poulin said.
But Ryan said the law would not affect a school's ability to regulate what teachers teach. She said the law would only prevent schools from firing people because of their sexual orientation.
One question that appears misleading raises the issue of an individual's freedom to speak out against homosexuality. The question asks: "Are you afraid that speaking out against homosexual behavior will soon be defined as a hate crime?" Even Poulin said, "This particular bill has nothing to do with hate crime."
Another question raises an issue that few debate. It asks: "Should the Boy Scouts be allowed to maintain moral standards that exclude homosexual counselors?" The law would in fact prohibit the Boy Scouts from not hiring people solely because they are gay. The Boy Scouts now do not allow gay people to be members or volunteers.
- Staff writer Tess Nacelewicz contributed to this story.
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