AUGUSTA - Two anti-gay-rights groups officially kicked off a campaign Friday to gather enough signatures to halt a bill prohibiting certain forms of discrimination against homosexuals.
The Christian Coalition of Maine is working with the Christian Civic League of Maine to collect the signatures of more than 51,000 certified voters within 90 days. If the groups succeed, the bill passed by the Legislature must go to a statewide vote.
''We can do this,'' said Paul Volle, executive director of the Christian Coalition. ''The organization has come together. It's very possible that we will get more than 52,000 signatures.''
The effort to repeal gay rights is among a series of citizen initiative petitions filed with the secretary of state's office. Others include a reconsideration of the $60 million tax break the Legislature gave to Bath Iron Works and another proposal to ban clear-cutting.
Lawmakers in May approved a measure that prohibits discrimination against gays in housing, public accommodations, employment and credit. Gov. Angus King signed it a few days later with much fanfare.
The two Christian organizations oppose homosexuality on moral grounds. Michael Heath, executive director of the Christian Civic League, has called homosexuality ''a morally inappropriate version of human sexuality that is properly stigmatized by civilized cultures.''
House Speaker Elizabeth Mitchell called the referendum effort ''misguided and wrong.''
''I am firmly convinced that civil rights laws should protect all people, regardless of sexual orientation,'' the Vassalboro Democrat said.
''Our laws should not permit someone to be fired from a job or refused a seat in a restaurant or denied a bank loan merely because of their sexual orientation.''
Heath said he has achieved his goal of signing up 1,000 volunteers who agreed to solicit 60 signatures each.
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