Paving the way for a fall election battle, opponents of the state's recently passed Gay Rights Acts announced yesterday they had collected more than enough signatures to place a referendum calling for repeal of the landmark ordinance on the November ballot.
Advocates of repeal said they had gathered more than 60,000 certified signatures in a 16-day petition drive, well above the 25,000 mark needed to place the question on the ballot.
"That's a real Massachusetts miracle," said Nancy G. Sutton, the chair of Citizens for Family First, which sponsored the petition drive.
Although the official number of valid signatures will not be released until tomorrow, Charles D. Weeks of the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office said that the petition drive had gained the necessary number of signatures.
The move to repeal represents a major setback to supporters of the Gay Rights Act, who lobbied for 17 years to force the state to adopt legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The current law, which gained final approval from the state legislature in November, is only the second of its kind in the nation.
At the State House press conference where the petition results were announced, supporters of the bill angrily criticized the repeal initiative.
"We have, the Gay and Lesbian Caucus have fought for 17 years for our civil rights, and we're not about to stand around now, after all that, and let these people take our civil rights away," said Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.
But supporters of the repeal said that the landmark ordinance gives gays and lesbians a special protection which other state residents lack.
"The gay community is already provided for by the existing laws. So why should they be afforded more rights than the ordinary citizen of this Commonwealth?" said John R. Soto, who is currently seeking the Congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank '61 (D-Newton).
A Misguided Effort
Other supporters of the repeal petition said that the Gay Rights law represented a misguided attempt to link the movement for gay rights with other civil rights movements.
"Homosexuals want to associate their movement with our movement," said the Rev. E. W. Jackson, a Black leader who opposes the law. "The fact of the matter is that the only reason why Black people suffered discrimination has been the color of their skin-nothing whatsoever has to do with their moral behavior."
Gay rights advocates dismissed the criticisms of the repeal campaign, saying that they stemmed from a misunderstanding of the legislation's purpose.
"From what we've learned about their campaign it had very little to do with what gay rights are all about," said Andrew Held, lobbyist for the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights.