AUGUSTA – The House voted 88-62 Tuesday night to pass a law banning discrimination against gays in housing, education, jobs and credit.

The measure, approved in the Senate on Monday, is expected to head to Gov. John Baldacci’s desk for his signature after additional procedural votes in the House and Senate.

The House and Senate both rejected sending the proposed law to referendum Tuesday, while opponents vowed it will be forced to referendum.

The House vote came after lengthy testimony, much of it for the bill.

Rep. William Walcott, D-Lewiston, said he’s a private person, but decided to acknowledge that he is gay to show that discrimination “happens to people you know. It’s not always nameless, faceless” people.

Walcott spoke of how during his teen years, in college and in adult life he was terrified someone would find out. “I was not very old when Charlie Howard was killed in Bangor, but I was terrified. The fear started.”

Walcott recalled that while he was a student at the University of Maine in Orono, two student athletes stood in a hall calling him names he declined to repeat. “Luckily, all they did was spit on me.” He never told who harassed him for fear of retribution.

Last year when other legislators laughed or grew angry when Michael Heath of the Christian Civic League tried to assemble a list of gay legislators, Walcott outwardly laughed along, but his heart began racing. “I sat here in fear, scared of what that might be. Would he pick up on this and post it on his Web site?”

Walcott asked that L.D. 1196 be passed for those afraid of losing their jobs, being harassed and who suffer in silence. “Don’t let this continue in Maine,” he said.

Rep. Joan Bryant-Deschenes, R-Turner, spoke against the measure. Human dignity cannot be passed by a law, she said. “Dignity is achieved through our accomplishments. We cannot legislate tolerance. We cannot legislate love.”

She warned passage would lead to same-sex marriage as it did in Massachusetts. “Just be sure you know where this bill is taking you,” Bryant-Deschenes said.

Rep. James Campbell, R-Newfield, also spoke against the bill, saying passage could destroy the Boy Scouts. “I’m very scared of what’s going to come out of this one.”

Several Republicans joined Democrats speaking for the bill.

Rep. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop, said that disrespect targeted at any group “is a hidden shame on our society.” Protections and equality are “not just human rights, they’re the most basic human needs.”

Rep. Sean Faircloth, D-Bangor, said voting for the bill is following the Bible, which says to be kind and tender-hearted to others, not angry and evil-speaking.

Rep. Stanley Moody, R-Manchester, said he’s a pastor and legislator, and that voting for the bill did not put him in conflict with either role. Christians are commanded “to love our neighbor as we would want to be loved.”

Speaking against, Rep. Brian Duprey, R-Hampden, said he’s tired of being labeled anti-gay because he’s opposed. That, he said, is wrong. Duprey said he was “disgusted” with “tricks” being used to speed up the legislative process, that the will of voters was being ignored.

He warned legislators that voting yes was “an open door to same-sex marriage. It’s coming. That’s what you’re voting for here today.”

Baldacci submitted the gay rights legislation and has defended it as a way to expand opportunities for Mainers while making the state a more hospitable place.

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