AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci, saying it’s the right time for state lawmakers to enact gay rights legislation, cast the effort Friday as part of a broader drive to expand opportunities for Mainers.

The governor, in remarks prepared for delivery to a civic group in Bangor, said Maine is the only state in New England that does not offer specific anti-discrimination protection for homosexuals but noted that many businesses have taken steps of their own.

“This is good for business. This is good for Maine. It is the right thing to do. In Maine, we need not fear our neighbors,” Baldacci said.

A draft of the governor’s proposed legislation is being prepared. The measure will not call for referendum ratification, administration officials said.

Gay rights measures have been rejected at the polls by Maine voters twice in recent years.

In 2000, voters rejected civil rights protection for Maine’s gays and lesbians. A 1997 gay rights law was repealed by a statewide vote.

In 1995, Maine voters rejected an anti-gay rights referendum proposal.

“Maine is on the path to becoming a national leader in providing opportunities for all its citizens,” Baldacci said. He suggested that elements of progress would include: “good jobs with benefits, bringing businesses to Maine, promoting tolerance – fighting discrimination, reining in the rising costs of health care, improving our schools, preserving our natural resources.”

Baldacci, who spoke Friday morning at a meeting at Husson College in Bangor, campaigned for governor as a supporter of gay rights.

In September, listing several steps he would take to promote what’s been called Maine’s creative economy, Baldacci reiterated his intention to submit a gay rights bill this year.

Among those who already have criticized Baldacci for proposing a bill to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is Christian Civic League of Maine leader Michael Heath.

In addition to the merits of a gay rights measure itself, also sure to generate more debate is the proposed method of enactment – with or without a referendum provision.

“Together, holding the line on spending, providing tax relief and making critical investments, we will continue to move Maine forward and extend opportunity for all citizens,” Baldacci said in prepared remarks to the Action Committee of 50.


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