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Gay rights bill makes it out of committee

March 20, 2001

Gay rights bill makes it out of committee



Annapolis

By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Maryland's gay rights bill on Tuesday cleared the Senate committee that has been blocking its passage for two years.

Over the objection of Sen. Alex X. Mooney, the Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 6-5 to send the bill to the full Senate.

"It's an emotional issue. It's going to create havoc on the floor of the Senate," said Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

Gay rights supporters hugged each other after the vote and celebrated what they view as a major victory that's long overdue.

If approved by the full General Assembly, the bill would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations, employment and housing.

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"I can't tell you how excited I am. A lot of people worked very hard to get to this point and now it looks like all their efforts are going to have a good result," David Pool of Hagerstown said in a telephone interview.

Pool told the committee last week that he lost his job as an office administrator because he's gay.

Mooney was upset Tuesday that Committee Chairman Walter M. Baker stifled debate on the issue. The committee had discussed the issue at length Monday.

"This committee has been railroaded by the governor. It's a shame. If I wanted to sell my conscience I could probably bring home millions in pork projects. I won't do that," Mooney said.

Baker, D-Eastern Shore, and Gov. Parris Glendening both denied that any deals had been made.

Glendening commended the two swing voters on the committee, Baker and Sen. Leo E. Green, D-Prince George's, for allowing the bill to move forward,

"There was no harsh political hardball or broken kneecaps," Glendening said.

Glendening said he worked with Green to calm his fears. In response, the committee adopted an amendment to make it clear that the bill does not condone same-sex marriages.

The committee also adopted an amendment offered by Mooney to exempt the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from the bill.

"We'll live with whatever we have to live with. It does address some of the paranoia of some legislators," Glendening said.

Mooney had hoped to offer seven more amendments, which could have weakened the bill or delayed it. A delay with only three weeks left in the legislative session could have killed the bill.

Now, any changes will have to be approved by the full Senate.

At the request of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, Mooney said he plans to offer at least two amendments on the floor to make it clear employers can keep dress codes as well as keep male and female bathrooms separate.

Mooney said he opposes the bill because it would give "special rights" to gay people and promote alternative lifestyles.

Glendening criticized Mooney for his opposition.

"I believe it's outrageous that people take hysterical positions for fund-raising purposes," Glendening said.

Mooney responded by saying the governor's point was irrelevant.

"He's obviously trying to divert attention from his extremist agenda," Mooney said.

Glendening called the vote a "human victory" rather than a political one.

"I know we cannot legislate acceptance. We can't force open closed minds. But we can speak out clearly what is right and what is wrong," he said.

Gay rights supporters said they have been working to pass the bill for 10 years.

"This vote today is in keeping with the majority of Maryland who supports fair employment practices. We shouldn't have had to wait this long for fairness and equality," said Baltimore activist Shannon E. Avery.

The bill must still be approved by the General Assembly, where it's believed to have a good chance of passing. In the past, a majority of the Washington County delegation has opposed gay rights.

About half of Maryland's residents are covered by local laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The state bans discrimination based on race, sex, creed, color, religion, national origin, marital status and physical or mental handicap.

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