An anti-gay activist who has made headlines for comparing homosexuality to sorcery is apparently ready to launch another anti-gay citizens’ initiative.
Michael Heath, the former head of the Maine Christian Civic League, plans to collect signatures in an effort to strike sexual orientation protections from the Maine Human Rights Act.
Mainers have voted on civil rights protections for LGBT people four times since 1995. And each time, anti-gay activist Michael Heath has been involved in one way or another.
In 2005 he led an unsuccessful effort to repeal an anti-discrimination law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Baldacci. Voters rejected the move by a decisive margin.
Now Heath is back. He’ll have 18 months to gather 61,000 signatures to force voters to decide whether they want to eliminate sexual orientation as a protected class under the Maine Human Rights Act.
“This would really turn back the clock,” says Matt Moonen, the interim executive director of the group Equality Maine. “It would make it legal again to fire someone from their job or deny them housing or kick them out of a restaurant simply because of who they are.”
Moonen says voters have gotten used to the 10-year-old law and put the rhetoric of Heath’s last campaign in the rear-view mirror.
“We have seen a fairly significant increase in public acceptance and understanding of LGBT people since then, so I think while that was a wide margin ten years ago, my suspicion is that it would be even wider now,” he says.
But even if voters refuse to go along with Heath at the polls, that doesn’t mean the effort wouldn’t have unpleasant consequences along the way, says political consultant David Farmer, who made Heath’s proposed referendum the subject of his weekly column in the Bangor Daily News.
Farmer says one need only look at what’s happening in Indiana, North Carolina and Georgia to see what the potential is for economic backlash when anti-LGBT legislation and policies are adopted.
“Most recently PayPal said they were going to stop an expansion that would have brought 400 jobs to North Carolina,” he says. “Indiana lost millions and millions of dollars from tourism and conventions and their reputation took a negative hit. And in Georgia we saw Gov. Deal actually veto an anti-LGBT bill when businesses such as Disney and Marvel Studios said they wouldn’t film in the state if they went forward.”
Farmer says the response shows that discrimination is bad for business and for an inclusive society.
Heath did not return telephone calls seeking comment for this story. But at least two of his potential allies say they’ll likely sit this campaign out.
“We’re not convinced that a large number of our folks feel, at this time, this is the solution,” says Carroll Conley, the executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, the group that Heath once headed, which has been on the front lines of efforts to prevent sexual orientation from being added to the Maine Human Rights Act.
Conley says he still thinks that was a mistake, but right now he’s more focused on working on issues involving religious liberty, not sexual orientation.
“I just don’t see us participating, putting our resources in that effort,” he says.
And Pastor Bob Emrich, who served as chair of Protect Marriage Maine, the unsuccessful effort to prevent same sex marriage in Maine in 2008, says he thinks Heath will face an uphill battle.
“I just don’t know how he would be prepared to have a good, clear discussion of the whole thing,” he says.
Voters, says Emrich, have not indicated that they’re ready to undo protections the Maine Human Rights Act.