ANNAPOLIS – It was the battle of the ministers as people on both sides of two gay rights measures testified Thursday before a committee of the House of Delegates.
Charles Forbes from the Presbytery of Baltimore, who spoke in favor of the bills, was joined by Rev. Douglas Hunt, pastor of Columbia United Christian Church of Columbia, and Rev. John Parker Manwell of the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore.
“The religious world does not speak entirely with a voice of condemnation,” Manwell said. He also warned against “an assumption which is all too easy to make…that the Bible condemns homosexuality.”
Harold Phillips, pastor of Pleasant View Baptist Church in Port Deposit, Cecil County, would have none of it.
“I don’t know what Bible they’re reading,” he said.
Quoting everyone from the 17th-century philosopher John Locke to the late chief justice of the United States, Warren Burger, Phillips said “there’s no profit” in homosexuality because gay and lesbians can’t reproduce.
“If I had two male horses that wanted to become breeding partners, I’d discourage it,” Phillips said.
One bill, introduced by the Human Relations Commission, would give that body the power to investigate complaints of discrimination against gay and lesbian people in housing, employment and discrimination.
The other, introduced by Del. Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery and chair of the Ways and Means Committee, would make such discrimination illegal, along with discrimination on the basis of personal appearance, association or chosen mode of transportation.
This is the fourth attempt by gay rights advocates to get an anti-discrimination bill passed. Last year, the bill didn’t even get out of committee.
Organizations registered against the measures at Thursday’s hearing included The Conservative Democratic Alliance, the Family Protection Lobby and Concerned Women for America of Maryland.
For the most part, members of the Commerce and Government Matters Committee listened quietly as Phillips and Jim Rogers, director of Elkton-based Mission America Inc., testified in opposition.
But when Rogers complained about the reaction he got when he put the caption “Payback???” over a reprinted obituary of someone who died of AIDS complications, he was interrupted by Del. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery.
The subject of the obituary was Arthur Kropp, executive director of a Washington-based liberal group called People for the American Way. Kropp died in 1995.
“Arthur Kropp is a friend of mine,” Kagan said.
Alan Zukerberg, president of Baltimore Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, told the committee what happened when his son came to him at the age of 21 and told him he was gay.
“I watched him flourish and grow because the secret was out,” Zukerberg said, adding that he and his wife had figured out their son was gay before he reached puberty.
Robert Bernstein, a Montgomery County resident who retired seven years ago from the U.S. Dept. of Justice, said he had recently been honored as “Parent of the Week” by a national television show, all because he publicly declared his love for his gay daughter, Barbara.
“I was singled out for what every parent does,” Bernstein said.
Kathleen Nieberding-Ryan, lobbyist for the Free State Justice Campaign, a statewide civil rights organization, summarized her view of the measures: The bills are “about basic human rights, the right to keep one’s job and the right to keep one’s home,” she said. -30-