By JOSHUA L. WEINSTEINGov. Angus King met Friday with the executive council of the Christian Civic League of Maine, hoping to convince the organization not to pursue a ''people's veto'' of the state's new gay rights law.
©Copyright 1997 Guy Gannett Communications
Although Michael Heath, the organization's executive director, said the league has not officially decided on the matter, he gave King a letter calling the law ''morally offensive to hundreds of thousands of Mainers and potentially costly to some of our citizens.''
It ended: ''Your signature on the bill leaves us with only one choice - the people's veto.''
Dennis Bailey, the governor's press secretary, said King, who requested the meeting, did not really expect to sway the league, but was surprised by the letter.
''He was a little disappointed that it appeared they had already made up their minds before he got there,' Bailey said. ''The governor does not believe that their fears are justified, particularly since Portland's had the law in effect for several years, and the issues they raised . . . just haven't happened.''
The meeting, from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the league's Augusta headquarters, was not a waste of time, however, Bailey said.
''He didn't think he'd be able to talk them out of it,'' Bailey said. ''He went on to say, 'If you're going to have a campaign, can we get a commitment to keep it respectful and above-board and not sort of unleash the forces of fear and darkness.' ''
Heath said he, too, wants a clean campaign, should the board pursue the veto.
''I suggested to the governor that both sides of this issue bore an equal amount of responsibility for helping the people of Maine explore this issue in a positive manner,'' he said.
In 1996, King vocally opposed an anti-gay rights measure, Question 1, on Maine's ballot.
''We got a lot of calls that were very hateful,'' Bailey said. ''The governor is afraid that the advocacy to repeal this (new gay rights law) or to delay it sort of unleashes some of the darker passions.''
The gay rights law, which legislators passed by a 2-to-1 margin last month, will not go into effect if the League gathers 51,000 signatures within 90 days of the Legislature adjourning.
If the League gets the signatures, the law will be blocked until a statewide referendum. Because the Legislature still has not adjourned, the referendum could be as late as next June.
Maine's gay rights law would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations.
In his letter, Heath denounced as inappropriate some of King's comments about gay people.
''At the signing of the gay rights bill, you said to homosexuals in Maine, 'You have been ridiculed, hated, discriminated against . . . hunted down and systematically murdered. Not for what you choose, but for what God's nature has made you,' '' Heath wrote.
''It is inappropriate for Maine's governor to suggest that God makes people live a homosexual or bisexual lifestyle. We take exception to the language that you and others have used to attack our position on this issue.''
Bailey said the governor has not decided how strongly he will oppose a people's veto.
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