'Within the law'

November 19, 1991

Howard County Executive Charles Ecker's nomination of a socially conservative minister to the county's Human Rights Commission has set off a predictable controversy. Based on stands taken in the past by the minister, women's groups and gay/lesbian groups oppose the nomination of the Rev. D. Walter Collett, pastor of Columbia's Covenant Baptist Church. These groups believe Collett might attempt to extend human rights protections to fetuses, at the expense of a woman's right to an abortion, and that he would oppose extension of civil rights for gays and lesbians in the fields of housing, employment, health care and the like.

In responding to reporters, Collett left little doubt that he believes that homosexuality is sinful, and that fetuses are "babies" whose rights deserve protection. Collett added, however, that he is "not in favor of bashing homosexuals" because "it is not the legal or the Christian thing to do, and I believe we should act within the confines of the law. If the law is not just, it should be changed." This is a point worth exploring in the context of the present controversy.

The right to secure safe, legal abortions is indisputably the law of the land. It has been a protected constitutional right since the Supreme Court rendered its landmark decision, Roe vs. Wade, in 1973, and the Maryland legislature in 1991 enacted a law which codified Roe vs. Wade. If Collett goes onto the Human Rights Commission, will he recognize the right to abortion as the law of the land, whether he agrees with it or not? If he cannot give such assurances, he should work to overturn the law rather than take a seat on a board which could require him to "act within the confines of the law" which violates his conscience.

With regard to homosexuality, Collett must know that homosexuality is not explicitly prohibited by Maryland law. Rather, the so-called sodomy statute prohibits certain defined sexual acts, and does not differentiate on the basis of whether the acts are committed between two men, two women, or a man and a woman, married or single. It is the act, not the gender or the status of the people committing it, which is illegal. And it is illegal even when committed by a married couple in their own bedroom.

So the question becomes, does Collett believe the law which prohibits certain sexual activity should be applied equally to heterosexual, married couples as to homosexuals, or does he believe that it should be applied only to homosexuals? To enforce a law against one person but not another would be the essence of discrimination -- as much as prohibiting a person of color from drinking at a public water fountain designated for "whites only."

These are reasonable questions which Collett should answer before he joins the Howard County Human Rights Commission.

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