Last Thursday, Michael Heath and his band of dour bigots sent out a press release to the Maine media, urging them to attend a twisted news event the next day where they would announce their goal of making it OK to punish people for being gay.
The advisory was delivered 32 years to the day after Charlie Howard was murdered in Bangor for being gay.
In case you don’t remember the story, Howard was leaving a church function when three teenagers called him names, chased him, beat him and threw him off a bridge into the Kenduskeag Stream, where he drowned.
The juxtaposition of Heath and his hatred and the tragedy of a young man’s death so long ago should be jarring enough.
At the press conference, Heath and Paul Madore officially launched an effort to repeal critical elements of Maine’s Human Rights Act, which protects gay and transgender people from discrimination.
In Heath’s twisted world, we would go back to a time when gay and transgender people could be fired, kicked out of their homes or denied basic services based on their sexual orientation.
In his own words, Heath would move “something, a behavior that belongs in the closet back into the closet.”
“There is conduct that ought to be punished,” he said.
Heath’s rhetoric goes far beyond repealing the protections for LGBT Mainers passed by voters in 2005. His real intent, as he made clear, is to make it illegal to be gay.
Standing behind a poster that showed a soldier embracing and kissing his partner on returning from an overseas military deployment, Heath attacked what he called “gay debauchery.”
His partner in hate, Paul Madore, continued: “There’s an open expression of homosexuality and sexual expression that is totally out of line for a country as great as the United States of America.”
The image of two men kissing — a soldier returning from war where he defended his country — apparently is just too much for them to take.
While we may never know for sure what motivated the murder of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, the murderer’s father told NBC News that it was the sight of two men kissing that may have driven his son to commit the largest mass murder in modern U.S. history.
Wrapped in their faith, Heath, Madore and a handful other angry people seek to outlaw love.
They have until January 2017 to collect more than 61,000 signatures to place their initiative on the ballot next year. (They actually have longer to collect signatures, but if they go beyond January, the initiative would be pushed into 2018.)
He’s had electoral success in the past. But a lot has changed since Heath was scaring voters in Lewiston in the 1990s.
In 2012, Maine voters approved a citizens’ initiative allowing loving, same-sex couples to marry. A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.
“As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage.
“Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
As if righting Heath’s karmic slight against Howard, love and equality, on the same day — July 7 — an effort in Washington to gut that state’s non-discrimination ordinance failed to collect enough signatures to make the ballot.
Washington voters, like voters in Maine before, rejected discrimination.
Whether Heath, Madore and the rest of their lot have the ability to collect enough signatures to place their initiative on the ballot is hard to predict. But already they have given voice to prejudice that has no place in Maine or anywhere else.