ANNAPOLIS – Gay rights activists scheduled to testify today before the Maryland House Judiciary Committee are hoping for more respect than they got last year – especially since their bill is, once again, Gov. Parris Glendening’s legislative priority.
Glendening pushed unsuccessfully for the measure to prohibit discrimination based on sexual-orientation in 1999, but last year, he worked behind the scenes setting up a commission to help craft the current bill.
Now that he’s back in the forefront of the legislation, Nancy Meyer of the Maryland gay rights organization Free State Justice said she hopes certain committee members will “assume a degree of respect” that wasn’t present when the governor wasn’t on board.
“We expect that when folks come up to testify, they’ll give them the opportunity to make their case in a way that’s respectful,” Meyer said, declined to give specifics of problems last year.
Meyer didn’t point any fingers, but sponsor Delegate Sheila Hixson, D- Montgomery, did: Delegates Emmett Burns Jr., D-Baltimore, Anthony O’Donnell, R- St. Mary’s, and Carmen Amedori, R-Carroll, were vehemently opposed last year, Hixson said.
“They definitely let their feelings be known,” Hixson said. “And I’m sure they will again.”
Amedori, who has said she doesn’t believe homosexuals should have minority status, said she can’t help it.
“I’m the same person I was last year in regards to the issue. I’m down here to make business, not to make friends,” the delegate said. “It’s not a congeniality contest.”
Opposing legislators will have a favorable audience. The committee is scheduled to hear a bill to invalidate gay marriages, a measure many gay rights advocates have already called “a slap in the face,” at the same time as the anti-discrimination bill.
But just because a few legislators oppose a measure, said Committee Vice-Chairwoman Ann Marie Doory, D-Baltimore, they shouldn’t speak for the whole committee.
“The House Judiciary Committee has always been very supportive. We are the ones that keep passing it through,” Doory said. “Their problem is not with the House . . . They’d be better focusing their attention elsewhere.”
Next week’s Senate hearing is the real hurdle. In 1999, the measure stalled there.
Still, Meyer said she’s optimistic this will be the year she and her fellow activists have been awaiting.
“It’s been 10 years of fighting for a measure that sets up a kind of fairness,” Meyer said, “and I think this is our best shot at getting the bill through.”
Today, with public officials – including Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley – testifying on behalf of the bill, in a committee that has already proven to be supportive, the measure stands a good chance of passage.