ANNAPOLIS – A Senate panel infamous among gay rights advocates for killing anti-discrimination legislation approved Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s gay rights bill Tuesday evening.
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee overcame stalling tactics by opposing senators and 10 years of killing the measure to approve the bill, 6-5.
Monday’s debate on the bill, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, was marked by hours of intense opposition by senators trying to alter the legislation, forcing the panel to postpone the vote.
Tuesday, however, the committee voted to limit debate and vote immediately.
It was the bill’s first, and perhaps largest legislative hurdle this session. The House Judiciary Committee has heard the bill, but has yet to vote.
Gay rights activist Nancy Meyer – who has been fighting for this issue since it was first introduced to the Maryland General Assembly – cried with happiness.
“We’re overjoyed. It’s a clear sign that the (legislative) process works,” Meyer said.
An opponent, Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick, described the situation as “unfair, political blackmail.”
“The governor has immense powers, forcing (legislators) to vote his way,” Mooney said. “He brags about holding projects over their heads.”
Mooney was referring to the supplemental budget, in which the governor allots funding for specific projects, the list of which has not yet been released.
Mooney planned to introduce two amendments on behalf of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce but was cut short when the committee took a stand against further discussion.
“I didn’t even have a chance to offer amendments,” Mooney said. “It wasn’t a fair debate.”
In a news conference after the vote, Glendening said this was not a political game.
“There is going to be talk about this being a political victory . . . when, in fact, this is a human victory,” Glendening said. “We cannot legislate acceptance . . . but we can speak out clearly about what is right and what is wrong.”
Glendening did persuade the two key wavering senators — Walter Baker, D- Cecil, and Leo Green, D-Prince George’s, who are chairman and vice-chairman respectively, to vote his way.
“I went to (them) and they said yes,” Glendening said. “There was no harsh political hardball — just some serious discussions.”
Green supported the measure only after introducing an amendment assuring that same-sex marriages are prohibited in Maryland. One amendment excludes the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts from the measure. Another would allow companies to use the fact that they have some gay employees as a defense against a discrimination lawsuit.
Amendments like Green’s, Glendening said, are born of “paranoia.”
“They think it’s one step in a list on the homosexual agenda,” he said. “I look forward to working with the full House and Senate — making sure this passes.”