AUGUSTA, Maine (CWN) - Maine voters repealed a gay rights law on Tuesday with a higher than expected turnout in the special midwinter election that both sides said sends a message to the nation.

      Thirty-one percent of voters turned out for the referendum, outstripping state officials' predictions that only 25 percent would cast ballots. With nearly all precincts tabulated, 52 percent favored repeal of a homosexual rights bill passed by the Legislature last year, while 48 percent favored retaining the law. Maine lawmakers enacted a bill last spring adding sexual orientation to the protected classifications in Maine's 25-year-old human rights act. Opponents led a successful petition drive to allow voters a chance to veto the law.

      Ten other states and the District of Columbia have laws barring discrimination against homosexuals and lesbians as a protected minority. "I think you're going to continue to see these issues pop up across the country because it seems a defining issue for liberalism going into the 21st century is granting special rights based on one's sexual preferences behind closed doors," said Randy Tate, executive director of the Christian Coalition.

      Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Tuesday condemned proposed city ordinances that would extend city employee health and pension benefits to same-sex partners.

      Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua said the proposed legislation is "destructive to our city's moral and social structure." He called on the mayor and city council to reject the measures. "The marital relationship shared by husband and wife constitutes the only true and lasting life partnership," he said. The legislation would add the term "life partner" to existing laws governing pensions and other benefits. The cardinal said "life partner" is a code word designed to lower objections to legalizing same-sex marriages.

      Mayor Ed Rendell supports the ordinances, last year having extended some benefits to partners of homosexual city workers appointed by his office. Council President John Street, a likely 1999 mayoral candidate who opposes benefits for same-sex partners, warned that the legislation could pose fiscal problems for the city if workers were encouraged to form relationships of economic convenience. "It carries the government in the wrong direction," he said.

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February 12, 1998 volume 9, no. 31          DAILY CATHOLIC

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