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Maine voters repeal state gay rights law

graphic February 11, 1998
Web posted at: 4:00 a.m. EST (0900 GMT)

AUGUSTA, Maine (CNN) -- Voters on Tuesday made Maine the first state to repeal its gay rights law.

With 595 of 663 precincts or 90 percent reporting, 133,303 voters or 52 percent favored repeal, while 124,015 or 48 percent endorsed retaining the gay-rights law.

"We feel great, great," said Paul Volle of the Christian Coalition of Maine, a leading force in the repeal effort. "We'll just have to see where we go from here, see what the other side does. We're in this battle for the long haul."

Gov. Angus King said: "I think it's unfortunate."

The politically independent chief executive was chief media spokesman for the anti-repeal campaign.

"We'll move forward, I think this is an evolutionary process," King said.

Joe Cooper of the Maine Won't Discriminate organization said supporters of the law believed they had found discrepancies in some returns, but not enough to change the outcome.

"We concede," Cooper said.

Voter turnout was low, about 33 percent, but higher than officials had projected. The repeal question was the only item on Tuesday's ballot.

The law, enacted last year, would have barred discrimination based on sexual preference in housing, employment, public accommodation and credit. Opponents quickly mounted a petition drive to force the referendum.

Repeal advocates led by conservative Christian groups collected more than 58,000 signatures to put the issue on state ballots.

The campaign leading up to Tuesday's vote was relatively low key, with limited media advertising and only scattered debates between representatives of the two sides.

January ice storms that disrupted utility service in most of the state also effectively muffled political activity for weeks.

Just over two years ago, Maine voters turned down a proposal by anti-gay-rights activists to freeze existing protections in the state human rights act. The proposal lost by 53 percent to 47 percent.

Independent opinion surveys in recent months have found that close to a two-thirds statewide majority now favors gay rights in Maine.

The survey results, however, were dismissed by repeal proponents in this winter's campaign. And defenders of the gay rights measure urged their allies not to be lulled into complacency by the survey numbers.

Copyright 1998   The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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