LEWISTON – Paul Madore of Lewiston, who’s been collecting signatures to overturn Maine’s new gay rights law, said he and others are being given a hard time by fellow Catholics offended by what they’re doing.

On Sunday, Madore said he was asking for signatures in front of a Portland Catholic church. “A woman came up to me. She was upset I was there. She slapped me on the shoulder,” Madore said. “I said to her, ‘If I did that to you, I’d be in jail.'”

Other than telling the woman to “get away from me,” Madore said he let the incident go and did not file any complaint. The woman, who was upset, received counseling from the pastor, he said.

In Gorham recently, a priest called police because he was upset that churchgoers were being asked to sign petitions, Madore said. The police came. Because petition gatherers were on public property, police concluded they had a right to be there, Madore said.

Signature gathering at Catholic churches has gone better in Lewiston-Auburn, “particularly where priests weren’t hostile,” Madore reported. “We got 350 signatures out of Holy Family Church. In Biddeford at St. Joseph’s, we got a good response.” He said he also did well gathering signatures at the recent Business to Business trade show at the Colisee.

Together with the Coalition for Marriage and the Christian Civic League of Maine, Madore’s Maine Grassroots is working to overturn the new law, which makes discrimination against gays illegal in the areas of education, housing, public accommodations and employment. Madore said he’s fighting the new law because he believes it will lead to approval of same-sex marriage in Maine.

The law takes effect June 29. Madore and other opponents of the law must gather 50,000 signatures by June 28 to get a referendum question on this November’s ballot asking voters to repeal the law.

Several Catholics said Wednesday they oppose petitions being gathered at church.

Jen Lachance, who attends St. Joseph’s Church in Lewiston, said Sunday morning is no time for politics. “I’d be offended” if someone asked her to sign a petition before or after Mass, she said. Sunday morning is a time between “a person and God.”

One Lewiston senior said Wednesday he regretted signing the petition last Sunday. He signed the petition in front of St. Joseph’s because a close friend asked him to. After he went in to Mass, the Rev. Michael Seavey told parishioners that the petitions were not approved by the diocese, and that he would not be signing it.

“I’m sorry I signed,” the senior said, adding he didn’t understand what the petition was about. “There shouldn’t be any discrimination.”

Even in socially conservative areas such as Lewiston and Biddeford, each signature is taking a lot of work, Madore said. “You have to do a lot of talking. You have to sell it.”

A lot of Catholics favor the gay rights law, Madore said. For every 100 signatures he gathers in front of a church, he estimated he could get another 100 signatures if he were on the other side of the issue.

And some priests “are working to change” traditional Catholic views on homosexuality, Madore said.

The Maine Catholic diocese is aware of the controversy at some of its churches.

“We’ve had calls from pastors complaining that (gay rights law opponents) were gathering signatures in the church vicinity,” said diocese spokesman Marc Mutty. The diocese has issued guidelines, recommending that priests not call police, and that signatures can be legally gathered on public property, but not church property, Mutty said.

That means that placing leaflets on vehicles parked at church facilities is not allowed, Mutty said, adding that’s tough to enforce. Improper leafleting has happened, “and several pastors were offended by it,” he said. “Finding stuff on your windshield is annoying. One of the things that’s upset Catholics is the material they’re putting out is misleading.”

Mutty cited one leaflet that reads: “Attention Androscoggin Catholics. Homosexual activists want to legalize same-sex marriage in Maine. Help us stop them by signing the People’s Veto.” The law is about discrimination, “it isn’t about same-sex marriage,” Mutty said.

Madore insists the law will lead to same-sex marriage.

Mutty said it’s not surprising that Catholics – Maine’s largest religious group, representing nearly one-fifth of the state’s population – are divided.

Earlier this year, Maine Catholic Bishop Richard Malone took no stand on the gay rights law. Malone said any discrimination is wrong, but said he worries the law could lead to same-sex marriage, which the church opposes.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.