Gay Rights Supporters Pleased With Election Maine Voters Reject Referendum Denying Civil Rights Protections To Homosexuals

Except for the biggest prize of all, the San Francisco mayoralty, lesbian and gay politicians were able to claim victory last week in most races they had entered, as well as in a key referendum on civil rights.

A ballot initiative in Maine that would have denied civil rights protections to homosexuals was rejected, 53 to 47 percent. It was the first time that a statewide gay rights referendum had been considered in the East. Similar measures were rejected last year in Oregon and Idaho, by narrower margins.

At the same time, however, voters in Northampton, Mass., which has a large and influential lesbian and gay population, overturned an ordinance that granted limited recognition to domestic partners, homosexual and heterosexual. The margin was 87 votes out of 9,453.

While Roberta Achtenberg placed third in the mayoral race in San Francisco (population 723,959), Bill Crews was re-elected mayor of Melbourne, Iowa (population 669). He attracted national attention when he disclosed his homosexuality in the 1993 gay rights march in Washington and this was his first race since then.

“I think it’s important that after coming out, I was re-elected,” Crews said. “And it feels greater.” He received 167 of the 289 votes cast.

Buffalo, N.Y., elected its first openly lesbian official, as Barbra Kavanaugh, 40, a lawyer, won a seat on the City Council.

She has represented poor clients in housing cases and said that housing and education will be her chief concerns. She and her companion, Lynn Edelman, have two young boys in public school.

Openly homosexual candidates won at least 10 other races around the nation, including the mayoralty of Carrboro, N.C., and lost three others, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a political action committee based in Washington.

“When a person discloses their sexual orientation, it enhances their standing in the eyes of the public,” said David Clarenbach, executive director of the Victory Fund, “not because they’re gay or lesbian but because they’re being honest.”

The Maine initiative, Question 1, would have nullified and prohibited local laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination. It asked whether civil rights safeguards should be conferred solely on the basis of 11 characteristics like race, sex, religion and age. Sexual orientation was excluded from that list.

With 99 percent of the ballots tallied by the end of the week, the vote was running 219,090 against Question 1, 192,397 in favor. The measure failed in 11 of Maine’s 16 counties.

The opposition was led by Maine Won’t Discriminate, a coalition of political, business, religious and community groups.

“We have a political framework now that didn’t exist before,” said the chairwoman, Patricia Peard. “These are all people who care about justice issues, from Kittery to Presque Isle. We held back the radical right and built something inside Maine.”

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