AUGUSTA – With the ink barely dry on Maine’s new gay rights law, more than 100 evangelical pastors filled the State House steps to announce two petition signature drives.

Three groups – the Coalition for Marriage, the Maine Grassroots Coalition directed by Lewiston Catholic Paul Madore, and Michael Heath’s Christian Civic League of Maine – will lead the effort to collect signatures for:

• A Nov. 8, 2005, people’s veto referendum, aimed at overturning Maine’s new gay rights law, which takes effect June 29.

• An as-yet undefined referendum for November 2006. Heath said the subject will be to confirm that marriage can only be between one man and one woman, “but we don’t know the content of that proposal yet.” Heath said organizers of the effort will make the gay rights and same-sex marriage issue “a front and center” topic in the election, and will target Gov. John Baldacci and all legislators who voted for the gay rights bill.

Predicting that the people’s veto will pass with a 60 percent margin in November, Heath said he is confident supporters will get the necessary 50,000 voter signatures by July 1. Asking the pastors for help, Heath said their goal is to raise $2 million to wage another successful veto campaign.

The work ahead in gathering signatures “is quite a hurdle; we have only 90 days,” Madore said.

Madore sharply disagreed with gay rights backers who said the new law does not open the door to same-sex marriage.

“You have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to see it, and I would direct those comments to the Catholic diocese,” Madore said. He said he is “outraged” that his church “lacked courage” by not getting involved. If the law is not overturned, “this is going to bring us same-sex marriage, because marriage is a human right.”

Catholic Bishop Richard Malone has expressed concern that a gay rights law would lead to same-sex marriage, which the church opposes. Madore said of the bishop: “What he needs to do is act on those concerns before it’s too late,” and before gays ask the courts to rule that same-sex marriage be allowed, which “will destroy this country.”

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