Maine Voters and NJ Supreme Court Address Gay Issues

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - Maine voters will decide the fate of a proposal that calls for a referendum on the question of whether homosexuals in the state should be protected under the state's civil rights act. The opportunity for voters to address the issue came on Thursday as the result of a vote by the State House of Representatives. The measure has already passed the Senate.
Governor Angus King is expected to sign the bill that will allow the question to appear on the November ballot.

Maine is the only state in New England that does not have a law expressly prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals in areas including credit, employment, housing and public accommodations.

"We're a state that relies heavily on tourism, and I think the absence of such a law has been a real problem," said State Senate President Mark Lawrence. "We need to stand up and say that in Maine, there is not going to be discrimination."

"I think this vote shows that finding ways to answer people's questions in this bill has really made a difference, and I think we can make the same difference in the fall," said David Garrity, a spokesman for the Maine Lesbian Gay Political Action Committee.

The bill also has the support of the Portland-based Roman Catholic Diocese, which lobbied for an exclusion in the legislation exempting religious organizations from it's provisions.

The religious lobbying effort annoyed many opponents of the measure, including Republican State Senator John Benoit.
"It's very convenient for the church to support this bill when it doesn't apply to the church. How wonderfully convenient. How wonderfully self-serving. If this is such a good law, why does it have to exempt anyone," Benoit said.

The legislation also exempts schools from including sexual orientation in their curriculum and prohibits sexual contact involving children and adults. The legislation does not afford homosexuals affirmative action status, nor does it mandate employers to provide health and other benefits to homosexual partners.

In 1998, Maine voters repealed a homosexual rights law, passed and signed into law a year earlier and in 1995. Voters also rejected a plan to keep cities and towns from passing homosexual rights ordinances.

In New Jersey, the state Supreme Court also has weighed in on a homosexual visitation rights issue, ruling that a lesbian, who helped raise her former partner's twins, had visitation rights, even though the couple is no longer together.

The case involves a lesbian who was artificially inseminated and gave birth to twins in 1994. The couple jointly raised the two children until their separation in 1996. The non-child-bearing woman sought custody and visitation rights that were initially denied. Upon appeal, the woman, identified as VC, was given visitation rights but continued to be denied joint custody.

In a unanimous ruling, handed down on Thursday, the request for joint custody was again denied, but visitation rights were upheld.

In rejecting the joint custody request, Associate Justice Virginia Long wrote, "To interject her (VC) into the decision realm would be unnecessarily disruptive for all involved." The court noted that VC has not been involved in the children's lives for four years.

In approving visitation, Long, speaking for the full court by writing that VC was entitled to the same visitation rights as are enjoyed by divorced heterosexual parents.