Wrong on gay rights

December 13, 1991

If the Baltimore County Council is serious, as it claims, about opposing discrimination, then it should have demonstrated at least a modicum of interest in a proposal -- recommended by the county's own Human Relations Commission -- to add sexual orientation to the list of categories deserving of legal protection against discriminatory acts. Instead, council members hid behind all manner of doublespeak to let Chairman Doug Riley know that any attempt to bring the issue to a vote would fail.

Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, for instance, pondered whether homosexuality was "innate" or learned, and feared that if it were learned, the council would be condoning an "unusual lifestyle" by changing the law. That, of course, is not the issue: government has a responsibility to offer legal protection against harassment and abuse to everyone, regardless of lifestyle.

The most blatant cop-outs, however, were those of Dutch Ruppersberger and Vince Gardina. After speaking eloquently on how his experience as a police officer showed him firsthand the ravages of discrimination on its victims, Gardina voted the proposal down -- saying he wasn't opposed to its content, but believed legislation ought to be enacted by the state or federal government. And Ruppersberger concurred. The county, in fact, has rightly seen fit to protect people from discrimination based on race, religion, gender, age, handicap or national origin; adding sexual orientation would break no procedural ground.

Riley could have taken the politically expedient route and not brought up the issue at all, merely relegating it to the next council chairperson to deal with at perhaps another session. That he didn't demonstrates the kind of political commitment and leadership that is all too rare on the Baltimore County Council.

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