Three council members revise gay rights plan

May 03, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Holly Selby | JoAnna Daemmrich and Holly Selby,Sun Staff Writers

In an effort to shore up support for a controversial gay rights bill, three Baltimore City Council members have revised a plan to set up a municipal registry and provide hospital visitation rights for domestic partners.

The new version of the measure narrows the definition of domestic partnership to exclude heterosexual couples. Under the original proposal, any two people of any sex who lived together would have been able to register as domestic partners.

Proponents believe the changes will allay some concerns raised by black ministers and could generate enough council votes for approval.

"Hopefully, it will address the concerns of some of the religious leaders who thought this bill would provide an alternative to marriage, since they felt like that would undermine traditional marriage," said Shannon Avery, co-chair of the Baltimore Justice Campaign, a gay rights group that backs the proposal.

But the bill's opponents said last night that the revision would not sway them. "In fact, we're even more opposed," said the Rev. Lawrence Washington, president of the Baltimore Coalition for Church Rights.

"They're trying to trick us with words, and we're not going to fall for it," said the Rev. Restie Whitaker, pastor of Mount Sinai Cathedral Baptist Church, who was among more than 50 people demonstrating last night outside City Hall.

The revised bill, which excludes anyone who could be legally married in Maryland, allows gays and lesbians, as well as relatives who live together, to register. It also grants domestic partners the right to visit each other in hospitals in the city.

The bill's lead sponsor, Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, a 3rd District Democrat, drafted the revision with Council President Mary Pat Clarke and Councilman Carl Stokes, a 2nd District Democrat, late last week.

Last month, the bill failed to pass a key test in the council and was sent back to committee. The action came three months after the Board of Estimates, a five-member panel that must approve all city expenditures, decided to make domestic partners of gay and lesbian city workers eligible for health benefits.

Mrs. Clarke said she proposed the narrower definition in an attempt to find a compromise. She said it is unclear, however, whether 10 council members will go along with it.

Mr. Cunningham also wants to arrange a meeting between gay rights advocates and ministers.

F: The council is expected to vote on the bill next week.

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