Capitol Notebook: Michael Heath returns to the attack

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Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell once said “God does not take sides in American politics.”

Yet God is always summoned to the field of battle, especially in an election year.

And a new skirmish could feature Maine’s own Michael Heath, a self-appointed “Christian” soldier who has for more than two decades waged a war against the gay community, while wrapped in a mantle of his apparently vengeful God.

According to news reports last week, Heath, the former head of the Maine Christian Civic League, will launch a new petition drive seeking to remove civil rights protection for sexual orientation and gender identity from the Maine Human Rights Act, where it has existed for more than a decade.

Heath was a magnet for controversy during his 15 years at the Maine Christian Civic League, even getting into fights with his own bosses. He left that position in 2012, the same year that Maine voters approved same-sex marriage.

And the man who seeks to carry God’s banner has long linked the gay community to the Devil. His hatred for the gay community is so extreme that in 2004 he was suspended from his Civic League job for four weeks after he sent an email seeking “tips, rumors, speculation and facts” about Maine lawmakers who might be gay. The League’s board said Heath had tripped over a line “of ethical behavior onto a realm of sinful gossip.”

And although he left the Civic League job in 2012, he stepped back into the spotlight in 2013, when he stepped up to applaud Gov. Paul LePage’s unfortunate comments that alluded to Vaseline.

According to the Bangor Daily News, Heath said “those condemned by the governor’s remark are the same leaders who are promoting sodomy in our schools. … Maine is being sodomized by the left, especially our impressionable and innocent children.”

Heath was about the only one to praise LePage’s comments, and the governor’s office distanced itself from Heath.

Mainers have endured several rounds of voting on civil rights for gays and lesbians, and Maine was the first state in the nation to support same-sex marriage in a referendum vote in 2012.

It is troubling that Mainers should vote on it again, and subject gays, lesbians and transgender people, especially young people, to the division that would result from such a battle. While it is likely that Heath can’t gather the more than 61,000 signatures needed to put the matter on the ballot, his aim to revisit a settled question that has to do with basic civil rights is cause for concern.

Despite recent progress, growing up and surviving adolescence and young adulthood as a gay, lesbian or transgender is still perilous in a society that enforces traditional sex roles.

And we are now seeing a political reaction to the gay rights progress that has been made in the last decades. A wave of “religious freedom” laws, especially in the South, aim to facilitate discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender individuals. Homosexuality is still illegal in many parts of the world. The rights that have been won in this country came with a great struggle, and are in danger of being chipped away.

While for some of us, a definition of God, to the extent one believes at all, is at best individual, many prefer to find that spirit in lessons of love, acceptance and forgiveness.

Michael Heath will try to harness the support of a God bent on retribution. After Maine legalized same-sex marriage, Heath said the state was experiencing God’s “judgement and destruction.”

I prefer to think that God indeed does not take sides, but would support all of us, believers or not, in trying to live together with mutual understanding, and an acknowledgement of what we all really know: That God, in matters of hair color, metabolism, as well as sexual orientation, did not make us all the same.

Portland resident Marian McCue is the former editor and publisher of The Forecaster.