ANNAPOLIS – One state legislator is so determined to prohibit same-sex marriages in Maryland that she proposed a bill this week that would only affect people from certain parts of Scandinavia.
Gay couples legally married elsewhere would not have their marriages honored in Maryland under a bill proposed by Delegate Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel.
But since no other states have legalized these unions, there are no legally married gay couples in this country. Vermont permits gay civil unions but they “aren’t the same as marriages” according to a civil rights lawyer. Denmark and some other Scandinavian countries allow same-sex weddings.
Still, Greenip said, the bill is for the children.
“Marriage is a safe haven for raising children and all statistics show that a family with a father and mother is the best environment to raise a child,” Greenip said. “So, I want to reinforce that family in any way I can.”
Delegates Carmen Amedori, R-Carroll, and Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, introduced the bill in previous years and each time, civil rights activists say it’s a slap in the face.
“This bill won’t have any actual impact. It’s just an anti-gay statement,” said Dwight Sullivan, managing attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. “It fails every year and we’re hopeful it will fail again.”
Though it never passes, that zeal to prevent legitimizing homosexual relationships shows how tough it will be — again — to win approval for the only other current piece of legislation regarding sexual orientation — Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s Anti-discrimination Act of 2001. Glendening’s bill would extend civil rights protection to gays. In 1999, a similar measure went down in flames, not even making it out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Battling for the bill is a personal fight for the governor. His brother Bruce was gay and died of AIDS. Glendening said he and fellow supporters are gearing up for the first committee hearing March 14, and even though membership on the committee has changed little since 1999, he’s hopeful.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but every day there are people who take us back, but we have not even begun to use our full (lobbying) potential,” Glendening said.
Greenip said her same-sex marriage bill tackles a different issue than the governor’s act but acknowledged “they are related.”
Sullivan, on the other hand, said, “One bill is a statement of tolerance and the other is a statement of intolerance.”
Legislators like Greenip have nothing to worry about under the proposed discrimination act, Sullivan said. Although it would prohibit landlords from turning away gay couples, it would “clearly not legalize same-sex marriages in Maryland” or provide a basis for a lawsuit. Maryland family law limits marriages to unions between men and women, he said.
The act would limit discrimination protection to three areas: employment, public accommodations and housing. Still Greenip believes the governor’s bill would take away the right to make choices.
“You shouldn’t tell people who they can rent their houses to or tell churches whom they can employ,” she said.
Many legislators have the wrong idea, said Maryland Human Relations Commission spokeswoman Martha Dickey. Before the governor’s attempt, Maryland Human Rights Commission introduced the bill in 1992 but it failed to pass.
“This is not a special rights act. It’s to even the playing field.” Dickey said.
“People don’t condone the lifestyle of gay people and they feel they should have the right to discriminate against them — that’s all it boils down to.”
The difference in opinion is evident on a county government level as well.
Four jurisdictions, containing more than 48 percent of Marylanders, extend discrimination protection to gays: Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore.
“Only a few counties have it but that’s why we’re pushing for it statewide.” said Rufus Clanzy, the executive secretary on Howard County’s human rights commission.
According to poll in The Sun of Baltimore, 60 percent of the people in Maryland favor extension of the discrimination act. And Everett Sillers, a member of the Gay and Lesbian Teachers of Maryland who has taught in Hartford County for more than 30 years, can’t understand why legislators don’t reflect the will of the people.
“I guess,” he said, “they just do their own thing.”