By Paul CarrierAUGUSTA - Gov. Angus King will try to convince the Christian Civic League of Maine not to fight a new law that protects the civil rights of homosexuals.
©Copyright 1997 Guy Gannett Communications
King, who signed the gay-rights bill into law May 16, will make his case to the league's executive committee June 6 in a meeting at the group's Augusta headquarters.
The governor requested the meeting this week during a telephone conversation with Michael Heath, the Civic League's executive director.
At issue is a gay-rights bill enacted by the Legislature earlier this month. The law will not take effect until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, which could happen as early as this weekend.
In the meantime, the Civic League may try to block it until voters decide if they support it.
King, an outspoken supporter of the new law, has urged opponents not to use the so-called ''people's veto'' to overturn it. But the Christian Civic League has said it probably will try to do just that.
To use the people's veto, the league and its ally, the Christian Coalition, must collect the signatures of more than 51,000 registered Maine voters within 90 days of the Legislature's adjournment.
That would block the law until a statewide referendum in which voters would decide whether to veto the law or let it take effect.
The governor hopes the law will take effect as scheduled.
''He obviously thinks (a referendum) is unnecessary and it would be divisive,'' said Dennis Bailey, King's spokesman. ''He obviously would like to do anything he can to avoid that.''
Bailey said King will urge the Christian Civic League to drop its opposition to the law or at least delay an attempt to repeal it for several years, to see how the law works.
King said he ''wanted to meet with us before a final decision is made'' on whether to circulate petitions for a referendum, Heath said Wednesday. But the governor will have a hard sell.
''I appreciate the fact that he is talking to us,'' Heath said, but he said his group is unlikely to abandon its opposition to gay rights because King asks it to do so.
The league told state officials May 13 it planned to use the people's veto to overturn the law. Heath said Wednesday a final decision has not been made. He said that decision will be made no later than June 13, a week after leaders of the Civic League meet with King.
The bill enacted by the Legislature and signed by King would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations.
It would do that by adding ''sexual orientation'' to an existing law that outlaws discrimination based on several other criteria, such as age, race, gender and physical or mental handicaps.
The Civic League announced its preliminary decision to seek a referendum only days before Concerned Maine Families, another group opposed to gay rights, said it would not launch such a drive.
Concerned Maine Families sponsored a 1995 referendum to block municipalities from adopting gay-rights ordinances, but voters defeated it.
If the Civic League decides to seek a referendum on gay rights, it may have a tough job on its hands. Collecting more than 51,000 valid signatures in 90 days is a tough task that would be particularly difficult because there are no state elections during that period. Traditionally, the polls are the best place to collect petition signatures quickly and efficiently statewide.
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