ANNAPOLIS – Big-time opponents to Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s anti- discrimination bill stayed away from a Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing Wednesday, leaving gay rights activists optimistic the bill will finally pass.
The Senate committee was expected to be the major hurdle for the bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation since the panel killed it two years ago. Gay rights activists, however, said it stands out as one of the most favorable hearings ever.
“This is the best hearing I’ve seen in the eight years I’ve been involved with this legislation,” said Shannon Avery, of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore.
The silence at the hearing from groups like the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, which hasn’t officially dropped its opposition indicates “it’s no longer a priority for them,” Avery said.
Backing the bill were the businesses Discovery Communications and the Institute for Genomic Research, as well as the Maryland Realtors Association.
Still, the biggest breakthrough was support from a small part of the Catholic Church, which has annually opposed the measure.
“Gay and lesbian children are always our children,” said the Rev. Richard Lawrence, who said he was testifying on behalf of several parishioners at his Baltimore church who have gay children.
Lawrence’s support prompted Catholic Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick, to say: “I don’t disagree with you. . . .I am the same faith as you and I, too, believe everyone should be free from harassment. But do you support this bill, personally?”
“Yes, I do,” answered Lawrence.
Lawrence’s testimony gave Avery hope.
“I see a changing tide in the Catholic Church toward fairness.” she said.
Lutherans, Methodists, Jews, and Episcopalians also spoke in favor of the bill.
Rabbi Mark Loeb said he spoke for a majority of Maryland Jews.
“This bill has nothing to do with sexuality but everything to do with human freedom,” he said. “We Jews have known discrimination through our history. . . . We remember what it feels like to be told we can’t participate simply because of how we pray . . . and not because of anything we’ve done.”
Still, a few religious citizens did oppose the bill.
One woman, J. Grace Harley, cited the Bible in arguing homosexuality is sinful. Although she said she was once gay, she said “the Lord God almighty made me straight.”
There was new opposition from the “transgender community.” To get the bill out of the House in 1999, the bill was amended to exclude transsexuals, transvestites and other transgendered Marylanders from bill’s protections.
Some citizens like Bob Tansey of Frederick County testified he’s tired of these “mealy-mouthed extra-compassionate people.”
“If you have to pass this . . . then pass it for all but Frederick County,” he said.
But overall, the hearing was calm, sparked little debate and proved to be very favorable for gay rights activists, Avery said: “We have mainstream religion on our side. We have business on our side. We have the governor’s commission on our side. And we have the people of Maryland on our side.”
Yesterday’s hearing, however, was very calm and collect compared to it’s ..past.
“This is the best hearing,” said Shannon Avery. We have .on our side..on our side”
But most of all they had a large number of religious institiutions on our side. Many of the religious supporters say their some of their church members are parents who are worried about their gay sons and daughters who are gay. The Catholic church, an institutuion that never before spoke in support of the bill, did so yesterday. Jewish community: .” Businesses like MD Assoc. of Realtors. Eileen Kessler. Day after Mr. Luthe Kind day voted to .. They have not submitted opposition to the bill oral or written, Couldin’t tel you if they dropped oppostition to the bill-but this is clear that its’ no longer a priority for them Changing tide in Catholic church towards fairness Most of maintstreadm religions have support from And we clearly have business on our side Fair employment practices This hearing was very different Usually have Catholic Church and Chamber of Commerce opposing “Opposition has kind of filtered out” where mainstream religion on our side. We have businesses on our side we have the governor’s commission on our side amusing Mooney just ekeeps braising the issue of transgenere Ammended out of bill in 1999 in House Judiciar Committeee Hei’s the red herring This is the best year in seven or eight years Be/c we have If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the gay rights activists who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday afternoon are in love with Maryland businesses and religious organizations. The hearing, which just two years ago, had a heated debate. Was overall, calm and reserved. the muted businesses and organizations who didn’t testify.