Last hour, the Maine House voted 89-52 to reject LD 1428, a bill that would have created a broad faith-based carve-out in state law and essentially allowed people to violate others' civil rights on the basis of their religious beliefs... because Jesus. The vote, which came after several hours of intensely partisan debate, was 89-52.
The Republican-sponsored bill, which was rejected by the Maine Senate yesterday, faced tough Democratic opposition in the House. In a statement released this morning, Speaker Mark Eves said in a statement that "religion should never be used as a cloak to discriminate," and Majority Leader Seth Berry added, "there should be no exceptions or loopholes when it comes to discrimination."
The debate today was equally impassioned. David Badash of The New Civil Rights Movement reports:
Rep. Justin Chenette, who at 22 is the youngest openly-gay legislator in America, talked eloquently and vehemently about how the bill would affect him. "Religious freedom is important, but this bill makes me feel like a second-class citizen... Name me an issue in Maine -- I still haven't heard one."
"There isn't an issue. This is a bill searching for a problem, rather than solving one," Chenette told his colleagues. "This wastes taxpayer money... It's fiscally responsible to oppose it."
Yesterday, in the Maine Senate, Judiciary Committee chair Linda Valentino (D) remarked that LD 1428 was clearly intended to undercut human rights in Maine, particularly for LGBT people's access to marriage and women's access to contraception:
"I see this bill as a step backwards. I see this bill as being filled with unintended consequences. I see this bill as being used as an end run around the Maine Human Rights Act. ... It is trying to erode the existing women's rights and gay rights that we have fought so hard to attain... This bill would allow extremists to hide behind the words 'religious freedom' as a way to circumvent our anti-discrimination laws."
With today's vote, the "special right to discriminate" bill is dead in Maine. However, the pressure is still on in many other states: lawmakers in the Arizona House are poised to pass a "Turn Away the Gays" bill this afternoon. It cleared the state senate yesterday.