Anti-bias bill wins support from gays

February 06, 1994|By Margaret Talev | Margaret Talev,Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS -- Members of Western Maryland's gay community urged lawmakers last week to support a measure that would protect them from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

Delegates and senators tended to oppose the bill, stating that they were sure their constituents would oppose it as well.

"I would have a hard time voting for a bill that gives gays the same rights as, say, minorities," said Del. D. Bruce Poole, a Washington County Democrat. "I think they are two separate categories."

Mr. Poole said gays should not be guaranteed the same protection as blacks, for instance, because it is unclear "whether gay lifestyle is a lifestyle by choice or by birth."

The Western Maryland Gay and Lesbian Justice Campaign sent members to the capital last week to lobby for the legislation, LTC sponsored by Del. Sheila E. Hixson, a Democrat from Montgomery County.

L The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

Del. Peter G. Callas, a Washington County Democrat and chairman of the county delegation, said he did not think the committee would give the measure a favorable report. But if the bill were to reach the House floor, Mr. Callas said he would vote against it.

"We're very conservative in this area," he said. "Many religious groups . . . would be opposed to opening this up."

Mr. Callas said that as long as businesses or other private parties are not receiving government aid, they have the right to choose whether to hire gays or rent property to gays.

He added that he did not think private citizens should have the same right to discriminate against women or blacks.

Del. J. Anita Stup, a Frederick County Republican, said she would wait to hear from her constituents before she would guess their general attitudes toward gays.

But she said she believed gays and bisexuals were already protected by federal discrimination laws.

"Why duplicate something that's already covered by federal law?" she asked.

But Ms. Hixson said she introduced the measure because she did not believe gays in Maryland were adequately protected under current federal law.

While House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat, said he was "opposed to discrimination in general," he added that he "hadn't given [the bill] much thought."

He said he would await the findings of the Judiciary Committee.

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