Visit the home page of The Christian Civic League of Maine for more on the petition drive to repeal the state's gay rights law, weekly summaries on other issues and links to other Christian groups, legal issues and political leaders.
By NANCY PERRYAUGUSTA - Despite promises to keep the debate civil, leaders of a campaign to overturn Maine's new gay rights law have started talking tough.
©Copyright 1997 Guy Gannett Communications
Phrases like ''moral gutter'' and ''Sodom and Gomorrah'' were used to build support for an effort to repeal the law in the July newsletter of the Christian Civic League of Maine.
Those phrases, in some circles, are raising questions about whether the Christian Civic League will be as polite as billed.
Michael Heath, executive director of the league, said he isn't trying to be offensive. But, Heath said, he must use strong words to illustrate the deep gulf between the moral convictions of those who support extending civil rights protections to homosexuals and those who oppose the idea.
''I intend to speak in as plain a language as I can about the morality of homosexuality,'' Heath said. ''It is morality that causes people to have concerns about gay rights in the first place.''
The league announced last week that it will try to gather enough signatures to force a statewide referendum vote on the new gay rights law, which is scheduled to take effect Sept. 19. The league promised a civil and respectful campaign.
In a July editorial in The Record, the league's 97-year-old newsletter, Heath condemned homosexual behavior and the political leaders who tolerate it.
Heath warned about other communities in Maine falling into ''the moral gutter of sexual, relational and legal permissiveness that engulfs Maine's southern city of Portland,'' which already has a local gay-rights law.
Heath criticized the Legislature for passing a state gay-rights law.
''A large majority of the Maine Senate might as well be the governing body of Sodom and much of the House could comfortably lead Gomorrah,'' Heath wrote, referring to Biblical cities that God destroyed by fire because of the sinfulness of their residents.
And Heath chastised gays and lesbians for their lifestyle. ''Sex got you down?'' he wrote. ''Try a new partner. Don't mind the gender. If it feels good, do it!''
''That's pretty shocking,'' said Karen Geraghty of the Maine Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance. ''It's disgusting and reprehensible for a leader in the religious community to be talking like that.''
Gov. Angus King, who previously urged Heath and the league board to tone down their rhetoric, was offended.
So was Joel Russ, director of the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce.
''An absurd and hyperbolic description,'' Russ said, referring to Heath's characterization of Portland as a ''moral gutter.''
Russ said the chamber supported passage of Portland's gay rights law five years ago and pushed for passage of the state law this year. He said Portland's law has had no negative impact on tourism, the convention trade or business activity within the city.
''If anything, it has affected us in a positive way,'' Russ said. ''It has placed us among those cities that are tolerant, caring and embracing of diversity.''
Dennis Bailey, a spokesman for King, said he expected the governor will want to meet again with Heath when King returns from vacation.
''These are very inflammatory remarks, just the kind of thing the governor was hoping to avoid,'' he said.
Bailey said King would prefer to have the campaign focus on the real issue: whether individuals should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
But Heath said the issue is a moral one, and he will continue to discuss it in that way with the backing of the league's board.
However, Heath said he would meet with King and discuss a way to make his point without offending the sensibilities of gay rights supporters. He will not, however, ignore his religious belief that homosexuality is wrong.
''This is about morality. You tell me how I can make my point in a way that satisfies your requisite for civility,'' he said.
Heath said he, too, has been offended by the language from the other side. He has been branded a bigot for his stand.
Heath took exception to King's suggestion that homosexuality is a genetic orientation, not a lifestyle of choice. Heath believes the opposite.
Related Internet resources
The Portland Press Herald Home Page
The Maine GayNet Archive