AUGUSTA — House proponents of the gay-rights bill released it to the Senate on Thursday night with neither discussion nor another vote, extending the emotional debate for at least another week.
The move was portrayed by the bill’s supporters as a procedural step that did little to alter the status of the legislation, while opponents said it was evidence that the measure is doomed.
“They couldn’t have the votes,” Jasper Wyman, head of the Maine Christian Civic League, said of the gay-rights forces as the House ended its last session of the week. “They have maxed out in their lobbying effort.”
The bill, a perennial that has been defeated seven times in the last 14 years, had won initial Senate approval by a one-vote margin last week but faltered in the House in a 74-68 vote Monday. Also, Gov. John R. McKernan has threatened a veto unless the bill is amended to require a statewide vote.
It was held in the House on Monday by Rep. Susan Farnsworth, a Hallowell Democrat who is among the Judiciary Committee majority recommending that the bill be passed. When the House reconvened Thursday, after a day of trying to win over more House members, Farnsworth concluded that releasing the bill for further Senate consideration was the best of her limited options.
“I don’t expect to get any more votes down there (in the Senate), but I don’t expect to lose any,” she said.
If the Senate reaffirms its support for the bill, it would be returned to the House anyway and Farnsworth said she reasoned that forcing another House vote Thursday would be risky.
“I would like a little more time to talk to people,” she said.
The bill would amend the Maine Human Rights Act to bar discrimination in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation.
“Generally speaking, I think it’s just a matter of time” before a gay-rights law is enacted, Farnsworth said. “If I had a crystal ball, I could tell you whether it would be this year or another year.”