With the stroke of a pen, Gov. John Baldacci of Maine signed into law a gay rights bill that extended legal protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The new law does not legalize same-sex marriage.

Known officially as “LD 1196,” the bill’s wording adds the term “sexual orientation” to the list of protected classes in the Maine Human Rights Act banning discrimination in employment, housing, education, credit, and public accommodations. The bill was passed by the Maine House of Representatives by a vote of 91-58 Wednesday. The state senate approved the bill the same day by a vote of 25-10 the same day.

Previous protected classes under the state’s human rights act are gender, age, religion, race, and physical and mental disability. Additional language was added to LD 1196 before it passed clarifying that it would not extend marriage rights to same-sex couples and exempts privately-funded religious groups from having to comply with its provisions. The new law takes effect June 30.

Government official said the new law is needed to send a message. The Maine office of the attorney general says that the number of hate crimes against gays and lesbians increased by 12 percent in 2003. Baldacci said those figures underscore why the new law is needed.

“This act not only offers essential civil rights, but serves as a welcome,” Baldacci said in a press conference after signing the new law. “Our doors are open to all people. This is a proud day for Maine.”

But at least one group is organizing to stop the new gay rights law in its tracks. According to reports, the Christian Civic League of Maine has filed initial paperwork to put a voter initiative on the November 2005 general election ballot to overturn the new law.

The group must get at least 50,519 valid signatures from registered voters of the state by a June 28 deadline. Michael Heath, executive director of the group, told the Associated Press that is group has a goal of 70 thousand valid signatures and hopes to raise $2 million to fund a campaign, called a “people’s Veto,” to repeal the new law.

For: Wikinews

Entertainment industry rising star Gail Berman was named president of the Viacom-owned Paramount Pictures film and television studios Wednesday. She is scheduled to start in May. Currently Berman heads up the programming division of the U.S. Fox network.

Berman is credited for the major turn-around in the fortunes of the Fox network. Their ratings were at the bottom of the heap of the four major U.S. broadcast networks when she took over programming in 2000. According to the latest Nielsen ratings, Fox is the No. 1 U.S. network in primetime programming, thanks to such hits as American Idol, real-time suspense drama, 24, and hit teen soap opera, The O.C..

In moving from television to the movies, Berman acknowledged to reporters that she faces a challenging learning curve. She replaces outgoing Paramount president, Donald DeLine.

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Success may be too much of a good thing for the future of storied BCC series Doctor Who. After the unexpected popularity of last Saturday’s return of the series to BBC airwaves, the star of the show is calling it quits from fears of typecasting.

According to a report from the BBC, actor Christopher Eccleston, who injected a edgier and sexier image onto the title character plans to leave the series once his 13-episode commitment is over later this year. Eccleston told reporters that his last appearance as The Doctor will be for a December Christmas special.

The show, which debuted March 26 after a 16-year hiatus, was the highest-rated television show in the UK that night. With an estimated viewership of about 10.5 million at its peak, more than 44 percent of all television households in the country tuned in to see the new Doctor. “The audience’s response for the new Doctor Who has been incredible and I am really proud to be part of it and I hope viewers continue to enjoy the series,” Eccleston said in a BBC release. At one year, Eccleston will be the shortest-lived Doctor.

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The local chapter of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity at California State University, Chico was suspended after members were linked to a pornographic DVD apparently filmed in the club’s fraternity house. According to reports, the DVD shows students engaged in various sexual activities with female porn actresses.

The Chico fraternity also has been suspended by the national Phi Kappa Tau organization and Chico State’s Interfraternity Council, the student governing body for all fraternities. In addition, the national Interfraternity Council issued a press statement saying it was embarrassed by the Chico group’s actions…

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San Jose, California – As the April 15 deadline for U.S. private citizens to file their 2004 income tax returns draws near, the government is reminding sellers on eBay that they may have to report any proceeds from sales on the auction site as taxable income.

This could be a surprise to some of the 135 million registered eBay users who consider trading on San Jose-based auction site to be a non-taxable hobby. Complicating matters, eBay says it doesn’t report individual sales figures to the government. Users are responsible to report any profits on their own tax returns.

The amount of money traveling through eBay is big business. $33.8 billion worth of merchandise was sold on the site in 2004, up from $5.2 billion in 2000.

Although eBay pays …

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London, England – After almost a decade off the air, science fiction television series Dr. Who returned with new episodes to BBC airwaves Saturday night, drawing an unexpectedly large audience.

Starring movie actor Christopher Eccleston, the ninth actor cast to play the Doctor, as the newly reincarnated Time Lord, the new series showed off a bigger budget with expensive special effects and a much darker — and sexier — tone. The new star and series got a blessing from actor Sylvester McCoy, who …

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Seattle, Washington – The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame announced this week the names of its four inductees for 2005. They include filmmaker Steven Spielberg, author Philip K. Dick, artist Chesley Bonestell and animator Ray Harryhausen.

Scheduled to take place on May 6 in Seattle, this will be the first induction ceremony since the hall of fame moved to Seattle from its previous home in Lawrence, Kansas. Induction into the hall is not based on any single work, according to the hall’s press release, but for a lifetime of creative endeavors that “shaped” the science fiction genre.

Inductees come from four categories: film, television and media, literature, art, and a category called “open” which is designed for individuals who do not fit into one of the other categories. 2005 is the first year the hall inducted people for works other than …

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Cincinnatti, Ohio – Television star Jerry Springer has signed a contract to join the year-old political network Air America Radio Network starting April 1. He says the new deal will not affect his popular television program, which will continue to be produced.

After initially being carried by only 45 stations nationwide, the host of the long-running syndicated program, “The Jerry Springer Show” will eventually have his radio show heard on all 51 Air America affiliates. The show also is planned to be broadcast by …

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Owings Mills, Maryland – U.S. pubcaster, PBS said it was canceling its business magazine and interview program, Wall $treet Week. The last new episode is scheduled to air on June 24.

The program, based in Owings Mills, Maryland, has been on the air continuously for 35 years, becoming one of the longest-running programs in U.S. television history. It had been struggling to regain audience lost after the producers fired long-time host Louis Rukeyser in 2002 and signed a controversial deal with AOL Time Warner to …

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San Francisco – Sarah Jessica Parker has lost her fashion cache with Gap Inc. The U.S. clothier said it was dropping the star of its current and ubiquitous I Enjoy Being a Girl television advertising campaign and buying out her contract.

Parker who turns 40 Friday and is best known for her role as the Manolo Blahnik shoe-crazed Carrie Bradshaw on the HBO comedy, Sex and the City, was ousted after less than one year of a multi-year contract. She signed a three-year $38 million deal with the San Francisco-based retailer in mid-2004 and has only appeared in ads for the company since the 2004 holiday season.

“While Gap will always seek partnerships with celebrities, musicians and rising stars, we don’t have any future plans to sign a single person to a multi-season deal like the unique and special relationship we enjoyed with Sarah Jessica,” Gap said in a statement Monday, stopping short of calling the ad campaign a failure. One such rising star slated to appear in the upcoming summer white denim promotion for Gap is 17-year-old Grammy-nominated British singer Joss Stone.

Although Gap would not say its Parker ad campaign was less than successful, the same can not be said for stock market pundits…

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