Cape man launches people's veto

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A Cape Elizabeth man has launched an effort to overturn a new state law banning discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, though he does not oppose gay rights.

Scott M. Clark, who has lived in Cape for 17 years, has been approved by the Secretary of State to campaign for a people’s veto of LD 1196, “An Act to Extend Civil Rights Protections to All People Regardless of Sexual Orientation.”

He is the second person to do so, after Christian Civic League of Maine Executive Director Michael Heath, who has repeatedly opposed gay-rights efforts. Clark is careful to distance himself from Heath’s efforts, which focus on the argument that same-sex couplehood is sinful.

Clark is not concerned about the bill’s affording protection to gays, lesbians and bisexuals, but is worried that language contained within the bill appears also to prevent discrimination against people who “express” their sexuality with behaviors such as sadomasochism or partner-swapping, also known as “swinging.”

It is not that he thinks those behaviors are necessarily wrong, but he wants there to be a public debate before any grant of protection to people who participate in those activities.

Clark is a middle-aged research scientist at a Southern Maine bio-tech firm, drives a black Ford pick-up and says he has no affiliations with any political or advocacy groups.

He said he would have no problem voting for a gay-rights bill – if it were done correctly.

“This is my own personal, individual campaign,” that came out of his frustration with the political process, Clark said. “My goal is to collect signatures to force a vote on the law, but not necessarily defeat it.”

Last fall, the presidential elections drove Clark nuts. He didn’t have a problem with any of the political issues; it was how they were handled. The quality of debate was lacking, the distortions were disturbing and the whole process was politically unsatisfying, he said.

“You got the red guys and the blue guys … when the red and blue meet you get purple, which is the color of a bruise,” Clark said. “I felt bruised after the elections.”

Then Gov. John Baldacci wrote LD 1196, and pushed it through the Legislature and into law. Clark was troubled by the political process that created a law about such a controversial matter without broad debate on the issues or public input. “He didn’t want people to vote on it,” said Clark, whose frustration led him to read the entire bill.

Freedom of expression

According to LD 1196, “sexual orientation means a person’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality or gender identity or expression.” That language is at the heart of Clark’s concern.

Clark said LD 1196 is being publicly promoted only as a law to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination, but language that protects from discrimination anyone because of their “actual or perceived … sexual expression” concerned him enough to pursue the issue with his state senator and the governor’s office.

Sen. Lynn Bromley, a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee who co-sponsored LD 1196, and Sara Gagne Holmes, the governor’s deputy counsel, confirmed that the language contained within the bill meant what Clark thought it meant – an intent to cover virtually any legal “expression” of human sexuality, regardless of a person’s heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality.

Clark thinks the law casts a much wider net than people are aware of. According to Clark, the scope of the law has the broadest definition of “sexual orientation” contained in any enacted or proposed gay-rights bill in the country.

If LD 1196, now on hold because of the people’s veto efforts, takes effect, Maine would be only the sixth state to include “gender identity” in the definition of “sexual orientation” and the only state that would protect people from discrimination based on any sexual “expression” they choose to engage in.

Clark said LD 1196 allocates “special rights” to the groups it protects, something that should be handled very carefully. The way the Maine Human Rights Act, which LD 1196 amends, works is that anyone with a complaint can bring it to the Human Rights Commission, which would review the case and give weight to the victim’s case if it goes to court. To have a special commission review your case is a special right, Clark said.

“Do we want to invoke all that based on ‘sexual expression?'” Clark asked. “I don’t think we want to go there.”

Identity question

The language within LD 1196 would also protect any person based on their “actual or perceived … gender identity,” independent of their hetero- or homosexuality, which would mean no one could stop someone who was born a man from using a women’s locker room if that person gender-identified as a woman.

“Very few people even know gender identity is even in there,” said Clark.

Clark cites rules published by the Human Rights Commission of San Francisco that contain the same protection of “gender identity” as LD 1196. The rules state in part, “individuals have the right to use the bathroom/restroom that is consistent with and appropriate to their gender identity.”

A balance has to be made when dealing with any discrimination bill, Clark said, because “the rights of one, takes away the rights of others.” He said regulations like this take away the right of privacy from everyone.

Clark knows there will be labels attached to him – homophobia and prejudice – and that people will lump him together with Michael Heath, the Christian Civic League of Maine and the religious right, who are fighting a different fight.

“I don’t agree with their views, reasons, approaches, or the statements Heath makes about homosexuality in general,” Clark said.

In the end, Clark doesn’t think his own shoe leather will be enough, but he thinks Heath will succeed in collecting a minimum of 50,519 signatures by June 28. If it will help the issue get on the ballot he will lump his signatures with Heath’s, but Clark does not think it will be necessary.

“It won’t be Heath who defeats LD 1196, it will be the governor and how he wrote it,” he said.

“Most people don’t understand how laws are made,” Clark said. He doesn’t believe that emotional feelings about discrimination or the rights of homosexuals should drive the debate from one side, just like he does not believe the far right should drive the debate by claiming homosexuality is a sin.

Clark holds out his two hands, palms facing upwards, and mimes a scale. “Homophobic on one hand … and sinner on the other.”

“If what people view is the debate and not the views of the fringe … it’ll be a success,” Clark said about his campaign. “I’d like to have a public debate … with the issues on the table, free from emotional outbursts.”

Scott M. Clark, a Cape resident, is launching a people’s veto to get the governor’s recent gay-rights legislation onto a ballot.Scott M. Clark, a Cape resident, is launching a people’s veto to get the governor’s recent gay-rights legislation onto a ballot.

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