AUGUSTA (AP) – The head of the Christian Civic League of Maine is drawing criticism after issuing a statement asking whether Gov. John Baldacci has “one of these imaginary gay genes.”

Michael Heath in March put an item on the league’s Web site asking supporters for information about the sexual orientation of legislators and other political leaders. He was condemned by Baldacci and legislative leaders from both parties, and later suspended for a month by the league’s board of directors.

When Baldacci on Wednesday reiterated his intention to submit a gay rights bill to the Legislature next year, Heath responded with a statement critical of the governor’s plans.

Heath’s reaction to Baldacci’s announcement was not surprising given his longtime opposition to such a bill. But this sentence in his release raised eyebrows: “Mindful of the unscientific and unsuccessful crusade to prove the presence of a gay gene, league executive director Michael S. Heath wondered aloud, Maybe the governor has one of these imaginary gay genes?”‘

Asked by e-mail by the Portland Press Herald to explain what he meant by his reference to the governor and “imaginary gay genes,” Heath wrote back: “What did you want me to call him, a girlie man?”

Heath said he does not believe the governor is gay, but did not provide any further clarification of his statement regarding “imaginary gay genes.”

Baldacci said Thursday that Heath’s remarks about genes are “probably the best advertisement for why we need to have a sexual-orientation law” that bans discrimination, because bigotry remains a problem in Maine. Baldacci and his spokesman, Lee Umphrey, said in separate interviews they do not understand what Heath was trying to say.

Maggie Allen, the president of Equality Maine, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians, said Heath’s remark is “intended to be insulting” to the governor. She said it contains “the implication that there’s something nasty and dirty that needs to come out” about the governor.

Allen said Heath is telling Baldacci that if he pushes gay rights “people are going to think you’re gay, too, as if it’s an evil thing to be.”

The Rev. Dallas Henry, president of the league’s board of directors, said Heath’s remarks were tongue-in-cheek and are being misconstrued.

“I think you’re making something out of nothing,” Henry said. “It was said in a humorous way.”

Henry said Baldacci, by promoting gay rights yet again after voters twice rejected such legislation, is catering to a special-interest group at the expense of the general population.

Heath complained in his news release that Baldacci refuses to meet with league officials. Baldacci said his staffers have met with league officials in the past, but the governor wasn’t sounding too friendly Thursday.

“This kind of behavior makes it difficult for anyone to want to sit down and talk,” Baldacci said.

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