Residents Anticipate Divisive Debate
Portland Press Herald,
April 24, 1998
Box 1460, Portland, ME 04101
By Tess Nacelewicz Staff Writer
SOUTH PORTLAND—B. Nolan McCoy believes the city needs a gay rights
law. Ray Lee says it doesn't.
But they both agree that the City Council made a mistake Wednesday when it decided to
put the issue on the ballot.
McCoy, who wanted the council to pass the ordinance itself instead of sending it out to
voters Nov. 3, and Lee, who wanted the council to vote to kill the ordinance, predict the
campaign will divide the city.
''It's going to be a very nasty thing,'' Lee said.
McCoy said he believes the fight in the city will be a microcosm of the heated
statewide battle that led up to a Feb. 10 referendum in which voters repealed a state
gay-rights law that the Legislature had passed last May.
Opponents of the state law, including a bloc of Christian conservatives, characterized
homosexuality as immoral. Supporters, who had greater financial backing, accused opponents
In South Portland, 60 percent of the voters opposed repeal of the law.
Councilor Birger T. Johnson said the vote indicated South Portlanders supported a gay
rights law, and he proposed one. But the comments made by residents Wednesday, before the
council voted to send the proposed ordinance to referendum, suggest the community is
About 25 residents - split almost evenly for and against the law - spoke to the council
before the vote. Councilor Linda R. Boudreau afterward called the discussion ''ugly.''
Lawrence Albert urged the council to drop the Human Rights Ordinance, which would ban
discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodation
Albert warned that ''this is only a beginning. The next thing you'll be faced with is
same-sex marriages and (the removal of) sodomy laws.''
Rita Caron scolded Johnson, a Congregational minister, for proposing a law she says is
against the Bible.
''Why did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? It's because homosexuality was going on
there. I'm afraid if South Portland adopts this ordinance,'' Caron said.
Lee said he was against ''special rights'' for homosexuals.
Supporters of the law responded. Lois Reckitt, who said she had lost a job because she
is a lesbian, pointed out that sodomy, the legal definition of which includes oral sex, is
not illegal in Maine and not limited to homosexuals.
''I guess that 65 percent of the heterosexuals in this room commit sodomy routinely,''
Deborah Shields warned the council of ''bigotry that can be cloaked in the guise of
And she said the law does not give special rights to homosexuals but would protect
anyone, such as a heterosexual denied an apartment by a gay landlord.
McCoy called for the city, which is celebrating its centennial, to give its citizens a
birthday gift of ''basic human rights.''
After the discussion, the council in a 5-2 vote refused to enact the ordinance itself,
as Johnson urged it to do. It then voted 6-1 to send it to referendum.
Groups active in the statewide referendum said they might get involved in the South
Portland campaign if asked.
''I don't anticipate we're going to be involved ourselves, unless there is some sort of
local interest in having us participate,'' said Michael Heath, head of the Christian Civic
League of Maine, which fought for repeal of the state gay-rights law.
Brenda Buchanan, who helped lead the Cumberland County chapter of Maine Won't
Discriminate, which strove to uphold the state law, said that group would only consider
involvement if its South Portland members wanted it.
Currently, Portland and Long Island have gay rights laws. And Bar Harbor approved one
Tuesday, according to the town manager, Dana Reed. Other towns considering the issue are
Camden, Kennebunk and Falmouth.
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