Since 2005, the Maine Human Rights Act has legally protected LGBT Mainers from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression. This law is so popular in the state that a ballot initiative to repeal them in 2010 failed to receive enough signatures to even merit a vote. But Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers, the Republican candidate for Senate, appeared to oppose the Maine Human Rights Act in remarks cited by local columnist Chris Busby:
Maria Holt, a former state legislator from Bath who served with Summers in Augusta when the anti-discrimination measure was being debated, was on the phone. “But, my dear old friend, if your private life keeps you from getting a rental …”
Summers cut her off. “Well, I certainly know what you’re talking about,” he said. (He does?) He then listed several business groups — including the Maine Chamber of Commerce, the Maine Innkeepers Association and the Maine Restaurant Association — that “do not support that type of discrimination.”
“I think that that is their choice and they’re doing it on their own volition,” Summers told Holt. “That is really the difference in the approach between you and I.”
Summers’ campaign failed to respond to repeated requests for clarification from ThinkProgress. This may be because Summers’ position is not only unpopular even among Republicans, but also indefensible: discrimination against LGBT workers is widespread, devastating for its victims, and bad for business. Summers’ position — that employers should simply choose not to discriminate — flies in the face of the fact that they, quite simply, do. “Voluntary” non-discrimination is really no protection against discrimination at all, a fact that Mainers have recognized for quite some time.
The extreme position embraced by the Summers campaign may be a Hail Mary pass for outside support. Summers trails independent Angus King by about 28 points, but has declared his intention to narrow the gap through a punishingly negative campaign. The only outside PAC support Summers has received so far has been from Senator John Cornyn’s leadership PAC, who has a track record of playing politics with LGBT rights.
Maine will also be holding the first-ever referendum to legalize marriage equality in the fall, which has solid support from the state’s voters. Summers, however, has used his role of Secretary of State to confuse the ballot initiative. Summers’ position is consistent with the extreme views of the governor, Governor Paul LePage, who wants to “reform” the Maine Human Rights Act and once said “there is no place for transgendered students in the state’s primary schools.”