Supporters of a proposed anti-discrimination law testified last night that they wanted to see the day when derogatory terms for gays would be as socially unacceptable as racial epithets.
Opponents argued that such a law would force social acceptance of immoral behavior.
The two sides squared off at a Baltimore County Human Relations Commission hearing at Randallstown High School that drew about 70 people.
The commission will decide in the spring whether to recommend including homosexuals and lesbians in the county's anti-discrimination law.
Gay men and women told stories of harassment that they cannot easily fight unless the county outlaws discrimination against them. Dr. Sam Westrick, a family-practice physician, said that during his residency 10 years ago a county hospital denied him housing when his male lover moved in with him.
The commission told him then that it could do nothing for him without an anti-discrimination law applying to homosexuals, Westrick said. "Now, 10 years later, there is still no protection for me."
Richard Oloizia detailed complaints that the Baltimore Justice Campaign had gathered for a study of harassment of homosexuals. Of the 48 complaints received in the metropolitan area since June 1989, eight came from Baltimore County, he said, including instances of gays and lesbians being refused dental treatment, losing a job, enduring harassing phone calls and threats of violence because of their sexual orientation.
All of these victims "would have been able to address their complaints had they been able to use the arm of the law," Oloizia said.
The Baltimore Justice Campaign, a gay and lesbian lobbying group, also presented more than 50 endorsements of its position. The endorsers included the Baltimore City Council, the Johns Hopkins Institutions, labor unions, civil rights groups and Protestant churches.
But opponents, who often introduced themselves as being married with children, said the proposal would prevent them from exercising their right to make moral judgments about whom they should hire, to whom they should rent and with whom they should leave their children for day care.
"The question is, who is being discriminated against? Do I lose my right to make a decision morally?" said Christopher Trionfo, president of a construction company who directs a state chapter of the American Family Association.
He and others rejected any comparison of social attitudes toward homosexuals with the history of discrimination against blacks and other minorities in this country.
Dominick A. Garcia, a lawyer from Dundalk, said homosexuals needed no protections beyond what the U.S. Constitution guarantees to all Americans. He said they weren't confronted with any institutional discrimination in American society that made them poorer or less likely to succeed, as segregation laws did against blacks.
Rather, "homosexuals have become a new power bloc. They have votes and money," he said.
Homosexuals' power as a constituency in politics or business deters much of the discrimination they might face, Garcia said. "When people have to pay a price to discriminate, they don't discriminate."
The 15-member commission will hold another hearing on the proposal at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7 at Perry Hall High School.