Gay rights bill draws a crowd of backers to Annapolis hearing STATE HOUSE REPORT

January 28, 1993|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

It was standing-room-only at the Judicial Proceedings Committee as dozens of people appeared before impassive state senators to support a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Offering few questions or comments yesterday, the committee members gave little indication of how they might vote on what would be the state's first gay rights act.

Sen. Janice Piccinini, who sponsored the legislation, was the first of more than 40 people to go on record in favor of the bill. The Baltimore County Democrat introduced a similar measure last year which failed to get out of this committee.

"We failed by two votes last year," Senator Piccinini said after the hearing. "I'm sure I've got one more so it's going to come down to one vote."

Three people spoke against the bill, all claiming that homosexuality is a behavioral choice that is not worthy of legal protection.

The bill would add sexual orientation to the list of conditions protected from discrimination by the state's Human Relations Commission. Those currently include race, religion, sex, age, color, ancestry or national origin, marital status and physical and mental handicaps.

Supporters of the legislation ranged from representatives of the American Association of University Women to the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. The hearing included stories of discrimination and ministers with brief sermons.

"This bill has been so inflamed that first of all I would like to tell you what it does not do," Senator Piccinini told the committee. "The bill does not prohibit anyone from denying employment or housing to anyone who fails to conform to usual and regular requirements.

"It does not promote or require any preferential treatment. I want to make sure that is clear. It simply provides equal protection under the laws of Maryland for those whose sexual orientation may not be viewed as traditional."

Seven states now have gay rights laws, as do two Maryland cities, Baltimore and Rockville, and three counties: Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's.

Several supporters said that gays face the same kind of discrimination as other minorities.

"The state has properly seen fit to provide legal protections to members of various minorities who are commonly subjected to unfair discrimination," said Robert Bernstein of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "Our gay and lesbian loved ones are in precisely the same situation. Every day they are unfairly discriminated against for no reason other than . . . unfounded hostility, born of ignorance."

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