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Maine Senate advances gay rights bill exempt of marriage

Measure excludes issue of marriage

AUGUSTA, Maine -- A gay rights bill moved closer to enactment yesterday when the state Senate agreed with the House to make it clear that the measure does not authorize gay marriages.

There was little discussion before the Senate's 24-to-10 vote to agree with the House version of the bill, which addresses opponents' concern that the antidiscrimination measure is a gateway to legalized gay marriages.

''This act may not be construed to create, add, alter, or abolish any right to marry that may exist under the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of Maine, or the laws of this State," the amendment reads.

Even before final legislative votes, leading opponents were poised to announce their next step should the measure win final approval. The Christian Civic League of Maine, which has been involved in two past efforts to overturn legislation to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal, warned that passage would lead to another referendum.

Michael Heath, executive director, urged Mainers to call the State House to urge lawmakers to reject the gay rights bill.

The bill would amend the Maine Human Rights Act by making discrimination in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations, and education based on sexual orientation or gender identity illegal. All five other New England states have passed similar laws.

Maine voters rejected gay rights laws in 1998 and 2000.

As the latest bill moved through the Legislature, the Maine Republican Party said majority Democrats ''seem intent on rushing this legislation through without seeking the support of Maine voters."

Mike Leavitt, the state GOP executive director, accused Democrats of using the issue to distract the public's attention from Maine's fiscal issues.

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