No one on the Baltimore County Council condones discrimination against gay men and lesbian woman.
But a 4-2 majority of council members yesterday defeated the county Human Relations Commission's recommendation to make such discrimination illegal.
The recommendation -- backed by Council Chairman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, and Councilman Melvin G. Mintz, D-2nd, -- was part of a report that called for amending county codes so that along with race, religion, sex, national origin, age or handicap, it would be illegal to discriminate based on sexual preference.
In an hourlong discussion, four council members offered a variety of reasons for defeating the recommendation, which has put them on a political hot seat since the commission proposed it in September.
"If you vote against this you'll probably be called a homophobe, and if you vote for it, you'll probably be called something else," said Councilman William A. Howard IV, R-6th.
He said he opposed the amendment because society "was not ready to plunge forth" with such a law.
Other reasons ranged from a lack of evidence that gays suffered from economic hardship to sentiments that a county council was not the proper forum for such a measure.
"I don't think legislating civil rights laws is the responsibility oflocal government," said Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th.
Berchie Lee Manley, R-1st, said she was not convinced that the gay lifestyle is "innate," but that it may be chosen. She added that she would reconsider the matter if it could be proven otherwise.
"I have known gay individuals who are delightful people," she said.
Councilman Donald Mason, D-7th, was not present for the vote.
Mr. Riley conducted the vote at yesterday's work session because the council is expected to appoint a new chairman soon, and he did not want to leave the matter unfinished for his successor.
The council also was under pressure to act from gay rights activists, who have been asking since September that council take up the issue.
"I knew that this was a possibility, but it's still disappointing," said John Hannay, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Baltimore. "It's an indication that the county's political leaders still have some things to learn about human rights."
Measures protecting gays from discrimination have been enacted in Baltimore and in Howard, Prince George's and Montgomery counties, he said.
The commission approved the recommendation in a report that passed 8-7. But the report was accompanied by a minority report saying that amending county codes was unnecessary.
Joseph Matricciani, who chaired the commission, said he opposed the recommendation because he was not convinced gays suffer from discrimination.
Unlike blacks, who were the focal point of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, gays are not suffering from any economic hardship, but are more "almost an economically privileged class," he said.
But Thomas P. Carbo, a commission member who supported the amendment, said that the issue was fairness.
"Is it fair to deny someone a job, a loan, or an apartment because of their sexual orientation?" he asked. "We came down to an opinion that there was no case where it would be fair."
On Monday, Baltimore County executive Roger B. Hayden appointed seven new members to the 15-member Human Relations Commission. But Mr. Carbo said that commission members had agreed informally not to take up the issue again for at least a year.