AUGUSTA – The majority of the Judiciary Committee voted Thursday for a bill to outlaw discrimination against gays in housing, jobs, education and business.

The bill now goes to the House and Senate floors for votes, and will likely include amendments from Republicans proposing that any gay rights law be approved by voters in a referendum.

Nine committee members voted for a gay rights law; three voted that it should be sent to referendum; and one, Rep. Roderick Carr, R-Lincoln, voted no.

Comparing gays’ mistreated to racial discrimination, the committee’s House chairwoman, Rep. Deborah Pelletier-Simpson, D-Auburn, said she supports the gay rights bill. Discrimination isn’t right, she said, and public opinion often changes after laws are changed.

“The Civil Acts Right was passed in 1964, and public opinion on interracial marriage turned in 1999 when my son was 8 years old. He’s a mixed race,” she said. Leaving a group of people out of having the same rights as everyone else because they’re a minority is unacceptable, Pelletier-Simpson said.

Also unacceptable, she said, was a story offered during Wednesday’s pubic hearing. A woman said her daughter was perceived as being gay, and she said she “had to spend $17,000 a year for her child to get an education, which should be accessible to her for free in public school, but was not because she was harassed,” Pelletier-Simpson said.

Sen. David Hastings III, R-Fryeburg, said he also supports a gay rights law, saying it would not be giving anyone special rights. “It’s about protection from discrimination,” which all are entitled to. “I know this is a divisive issue,” Hastings said, adding that testimony showed that there is a large group of Mainers suffering from discrimination. “I don’t think it’s right.”

Carr said his beliefs prompted him to vote against the measure, and that lawmakers aren’t listening to voters.

“Unfortunately the people have spoken,” Carr said. “They’ll be forced to go to the ballot box because of the actions we’re taking here. I need to say that to give the other side of the story,” he said.

Other committee members echoed sentiments in favor of the law. Rep. Stanley Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said he couldn’t vote for the law fast enough.

The committee’s Senate co-chairman, Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, said the issue is “black and white,” and disagreed with Rep. Joan Nass, R-Acton, who complained that Thursday’s committee vote was being taken only one day after the hearing, not allowing her time to weigh the issue.

“Everyone knew this bill was coming out,” Hobbins said. He added that the issue has been debated before, and will be again when it reaches the full House and Senate, and before the looming referendum. “Whether we vote today, Monday or Tuesday, it’s going to happen. The time has come,” Hobbins said.

The three who voted that any gay rights law must be approved in referendum were Nass, Rep. Joan Bryant-Deschenes, R-Turner, and Rep. Roger Sherman, R-Hodgdon.


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