Last edited: February 27, 2005

Residents Anticipate Divisive Debate

Portland Press Herald, April 24, 1998
Box 1460, Portland, ME 04101
Fax 207-791-6924

By Tess Nacelewicz Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLANDB. 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in the city will be a microcosm of the heated statewide battle that led up to a Feb. 10 referendum in which voters repealed a state gay-rights law that the Legislature had passed last May.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 of discrimination.

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 bitterly divided.

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 and credit.

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,'' Reckitt said.

Deborah Shields warned the council of ''bigotry that can be cloaked in the guise of religion.''

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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