State Sen. Dale McCormick’s decision this week to withdraw a gay-rights bill from consideration of the Legislature was welcome. After the fall’s bruising campaign on a human-rights referendum question aimed at homosexuals, the state needs time to recover.
The human-rights measure, known as Question 1, was a long, angry, confusing campaign that produced no mandate for either side. Maine Won’t Discriminate was forced to outspend its opponents nearly 10-to-1 to produce a narrow victory. Though it had support from a wide range of businesses and organizations, the No side of the question captured just 53 percent of the vote.
The referendum question ably demonstrated, however, a state deeply conflicted about homosexuality, the role of religion in making state policy and what protected status within the human-rights law means. The gay-rights bill proposed by Sen. McCormick would have brought back all of these issues with no more understanding than was found in the Question 1 campaign. A second, slightly more conservative bill, sponsored by Sen. Georgette Berube of Lewiston, would have the same effect and also should be withdrawn from consideration.
Instead of trying to pass a gay-rights bill now, during a short legislative session, Maine would do better to look at the larger issues that cause the divisiveness. It should debate why a right routinely offered to one group becomes “special” when the law requires that it also be offered to another. It should seek to understand why the issue of gay rights has come up in legislature after legislature.
By withdrawing the bill, Sen. McCormick concedes just one point to the proponents of Question 1: that Concerned Maine Families used its limited funds to sow enough mistrust and unhappiness throughout the state to ensure that gay-rights debates remain bitter encounters.
Time and education can help heal some of that.