ANNAPOLIS – Despite a Republican filibuster lasting to nearly 3 a.m. Tuesday, Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s gay rights bill passed the Senate floor that afternoon.
The measure has been before the Maryland General Assembly for more than 10 years, but this is the first year it’s been voted out of its most problematic committee, debated on the Senate floor, and passed.
“This is a very important day,” said Glendening after the 32-14 vote. “It should be clear we do not discriminate against anyone for any purpose.”
The bill would prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The Senate amended it to exempt scouting organizations and reiterate prohibitions on gay marriages. That amended version now will be considered by the House of Delegates.
House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday and the measure could be up for a floor vote by the end of the week.
But gay rights advocates like Shannon Avery of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore are already celebrating.
While the Senate battle was to be the most difficult, the measure is expected to fly through the House.
“We’ve actually picked up a couple of votes from a couple of delegates who have expressed regret,” Avery said. “This year they said they’re doing the right thing and won’t support discrimination in any form.”
The likelihood of the bill’s passage upsets the measure’s most vocal opponent, Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick.
“This bill is not about equal rights or anti-discrimination,” said Mooney. “It’s about special rights.”
Glendening “twists our arms to get us to vote for bills like this,” Mooney said. “It’s wrong the way the governor spent thousands of dollars-of taxpayer’s money to lobby for this bill . . . He’s misusing the budget and then he brags about it in the paper.”
Wrong, Glendening told reporters after the Senate vote. Although he is known for using appointing, budgetary and redistricting powers to get measures passed, this time was different.
“I did not use any resources of the office other than my own personal persuasion,” Glendening said.
Another opponent, Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Carroll, said those senators who gave into that persuasion are putting the state of Maryland on “a slippery slope.” This measure, he said, is just one step in a direction to legalize same sex marriages. However, the bill was amended to include a statement that reiterates the state’s law that prohibits gay marriages. “We have to determine where our civilization is going to go,” he said. “I think we’re heading down the wrong road.” Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, stood up to explain her support for the measure, saying the issue is really not that complicated. “There’s no middle ground here,” Forehand said. “Either you’re against [discrimination] or you’re for it.”
Sen. Thomas Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, stood up to say he had no dealings with the governor at all – despite Mooney’s comments that the governor “blackmails” legislators.
“I didn’t talk to the governor about this vote,” said Bromwell, who voted in favor of the gay rights bill. “I voted because I know gays and lesbians, and I can’t go home and look them in the face if I didn’t.”