AUGUSTA – Amid complaints that the bill was being “fast-tracked,” the Senate voted 25-10 Monday for a law banning discrimination against gays in housing, education, jobs and credit.

After a second vote in the Senate, likely on today, the legislation will head to the House, where a vote is expected this week.

Republicans and others opposing the bill vowed they will bring the issue to referendum this November. But supporters, including the Rev. Sue Kinsman of the Sanford Unitarian Universalist Church, who offered the prayer in the Senate on Monday, said members of her congregation are calling legislators and asking them to pass the bill.

Michael Heath of the Christian Civic League put out a bulletin asking supporters to call House members and urge them to reject the bill. The league is also holding a “Pastors Press Conference for Marriage” Thursday at the State House to protest the bill on the grounds it could lead to gay marriage.

On the floor of the Senate Monday, Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, said she’s opposed to the bill’s being passed without going to referendum. “The voters have voted on this three or four times in the last five years” and have voted it down. “This bill needs to go back to the public.”

Plowman said the bill was moving unusually fast through the process. “Nobody wants to use the word ‘special,’ but this sure got treated this way,” she said, observing that the hearing was March 23, it was voted out of committee March 24, “and here it is on our calendar March 28.”

Legislators can’t say the bill “didn’t get preferential treatment,” Plowman said.

Sen. Kenneth Gagnon, D-Waterville, disagreed, saying the bill went through the appropriate process. The governor announced his plans for his gay rights bill months ago and that story “got considerable play in the press,” Gagnon said.

The Judiciary Committee then accepted L.D. 1196, and the public hearing was announced with two weeks’ notice “like every other bill.” The hearing was well attended, “and the process moved forward as it would any other bill,” he said.

Complaining about the bill’s moving too fast “is an old game. If you can’t attack the merits of the issue then you attack the process,” he said. “Let’s stick with the merits of the bill.”

Sen. Scott Cowger, D-Hallowell, said all other New England states have passed similar anti-discrimination laws and it’s time Maine followed suit. “As a gay man myself, I know personally the need for this bill,” Cowger said. “People have been fired from their jobs just because of their sexual orientation, and it’s hard to believe this is perfectly legal under Maine law.”

Several Republicans, including sponsor Sen. Karl Turner, R-Cumberland, also spoke for the bill. Discrimination in employment, credit and housing because of someone’s sexual orientation is not fair “and should not stand,” Turner said. “There is no place in our society for discrimination of any type.”

Sen. David Hastings III, R-Fryeburg, said gays are entitled to protection.

Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, said he was voting for the bill “because the Bible tells me so,” that the Bible teaches against prejudice and discrimination.

Speaking in opposition, Sen. Chandler Woodcock, R-Farmington, said language in the bill that has to do with gender identity “concerns me. I’m not sure what it means.”

In the proposed law, “sexual orientation” is defined as a person’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity or expression. That would outlaw discrimination against anyone who changed his or her gender.

Saying he didn’t feel the law is necessary, Woodcock noted that he is a male and “always is going to be one.”

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