A push to remove protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation from the Maine Human Rights Act has been abandoned, according to the person who started it.

Michael Heath of Chelsea said Thursday that he will not submit the 61,123 signatures from registered Maine voters required to put a referendum question on the statewide ballot. Heath, who launched the effort in April of 2016, faces a deadline of Saturday to submit the signatures.

“No, I am not going to file it,” Heath said Thursday during a telephone call with the Bangor Daily News. He declined to answer any other questions.

For more than a decade, Heath, former head of the Christian Civic League of Maine, has been one of the state’s leading opponents of equal rights based on sexual orientation. His proposal sought to remove the words “sexual orientation” from numerous places in which the Maine Human Rights Act discusses protections for Mainers.

The prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation has been part of the act since 2005, when Maine voters rejected a people’s veto attempt to prevent the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected class. In 2012, Maine became the first state to approve same-sex marriage via statewide referendum.

Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couple have a right to marry.

Heath led a failed effort to overturn “sexual orientation” being added to the human rights act in 2006 and was an opponent of Maine’s same-sex marriage referendum in 2012.

During the 2012 campaign, he co-chaired the No Special Right PAC and called homosexuality “intrinsically harmful and evil” during a State House news conference. He has regularly criticized what he calls a secret “gay agenda” that poses a threat to families.

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Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.