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Committee approves gay rights bill

March 29, 2001

Committee approves gay rights bill



By LAURA ERNDE / laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Gay rights legislation embarked Wednesday on what's expected to be a speedy trip through the Maryland House of Delegates.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-8 to send the bill to the House floor, where it will likely pass, although most Washington County delegates plan to vote in opposition.

The bill bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in the areas of housing, public accommodations and employment.

"I really don't think it's necessary. There are more important issues. I'm more concerned with senior citizens without prescription drug coverage than what two individuals want to do with their lifestyle choice," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

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Del. Christopher B. Shank, citing a letter of opposition from the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, said he's worried about the effect on small businesses.

"This is going to lead to all kinds of frivolous lawsuits," he said.

Shank also said most of his calls from constituents have been in opposition.

Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington, said he doesn't think gays, lesbians and bisexuals should be given minority status.

"This is the first step toward gay marriages and it's simply not necessary," Bartlett said.

Opponents on the Judiciary Committee used some of the same arguments.

"Gays and lesbians are not minorities as I am. They have been in the legislature longer than me," said Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., D-Baltimore, who is black.

Burns and other opponents tried unsuccessfully to strip the bill of several amendments added by the Senate. They also tried to add their own amendments.

In the end, the committee passed a bill identical to the one passed by the Senate on Tuesday.

Former Hagerstown resident Del. Charles Barkley, D-Montgomery, said he voted in favor of it because local anti-discrimination laws have worked well.

"It's a good bill," he said.

About half the state's residents are already covered by laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and there has not been a flood of lawsuits, supporters said.

"Everybody deserves a place to live, a job according to their abilities and public accommodations. It's time for Maryland to set the standard, to let all folks know that gay bashing is not acceptable in Maryland," said Del. Carol S. Petzold, D-Montgomery.

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