AUGUSTA (AP) – A gay rights bill moved closer to enactment on Wednesday when the House gave its final approval to the measure and sent it to the Senate, where passage was expected. There was no debate before Wednesday night’s 91-58 vote House vote.

The bill gained ground earlier in the day when the Senate agreed with the House to make it clear that the measure does not authorize gay marriages. There was little discussion before the Senate’s 24-10 vote to agree with the House version of the bill, which addresses opponents’ concern that the anti-discrimination measure is a gateway to legalized gay marriages.

“This act may not be construed to create, add, alter or abolish any right to marry that may exist under the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of Maine or the laws of this State,” the amendment reads.

Even before final legislative votes, leading opponents were poised to announce their next step should the measure win final approval.

The Christian Civic League of Maine, which has been involved in two past efforts to overturn legislation to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal, warned that the bill’s passage would lead to another referendum.

Michael Heath, executive director, urged Mainers to call the State House to urge lawmakers to reject the gay rights bill.

“In the next three days, we must shut down the House of Representatives phone lines,” Heath wrote in an e-mail to Christian Civic League members.

The bill would amend the Maine Human Rights Act by making discrimination in employment, housing, credit, public accommodations and education based on sexual orientation or gender identity illegal. All five other New England states have passed similar laws.

Maine voters rejected gay rights laws in 1998 and 2000.

As the latest bill moved through the Legislature, the Maine Republican Party said majority Democrats “seem intent on rushing this legislation through without seeking the support of Maine voters.

“Maine people are quite capable of reaching an informed decision on matters presented to them at the ballot box, as they have done on this issue in the past,” state GOP Executive Director Mike Leavitt said in a statement.

Leavitt also accused Democrats of using the issue to distract the public’s attention from Maine’s fiscal issues.

After Tuesday night’s House vote, Democratic House Speaker John Richardson of Brunswick says the Legislature “has taken a bold step forward.”

“By passing the anti-discrimination bill, Maine will be on equal footing with the rest of New England in protecting all citizens from discrimination in housing, lending, education and lodging,” said Richardson.


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