Committee urged to pass gay rights law Advocates, opponents address state officials

February 09, 1996|By Frank Langfitt | Frank Langfitt,SUN STAFF

If a landlord evicts two men because they are homosexual, the couple has no legal recourse in Maryland. And if a lesbian loses a job because of her sexual orientation, she is equally out of luck.

A group of ministers, gay rights advocates and others urged a House committee in Annapolis to help change that yesterday by approving legislation that would outlaw housing and job discrimination because of sexual orientation.

The proposal, which is supported by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, would give homosexuals and bisexuals the right to file a complaint with the state government to keep their jobs and homes.

"The bill does not create a special privilege or approval" of homosexual lifestyles, said Glendora Hughes, general counsel to the Maryland Commission on Human Relations. "It simply provides protections and rights."

Opponents, though, argued exactly the opposite during a hearing before the Commerce and Government Matters Committee.

The pastor of a Cecil County Baptist church said such legislation would create another protected class in American society. He also warned that supporting the proposal was tantamount to approving a lifestyle that does not lead to procreation and therefore, in his view, does not benefit society.

"We are encouraging this lifestyle that has no benefit to the future," said Harold Phillips, pastor of the Pleasant View Baptist Church in Port Deposit.

Jim Rogers of Elkton, editor and director of Mission America, a religious newsletter, said the legislation was "an attempt to legalize immorality."

Mr. Rogers believes law will never change sentiment. "You can't legislate feelings."

Under current law, Marylanders are protected against discrimination based on color, age, race, religion, sex and marital status,among other things. The proposal under consideration would extend that protection to sexual orientation.

Some jurisdictions -- Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties as well as Baltimore City -- already provide civil rights protection for sexual orientation. Most do not.

The so-called "gay rights bill" has been a perennial loser in Annapolis, having been defeated four years in a row. It has been sponsored by Del. Sheila E. Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat. Last year, the Commerce and Government Matters Committee rejected it by a vote of 13-7.

This year, proponents say they have more support, but still need three additional votes to pass it out of committee and onto the floor of the House of Delegates. They acknowledge the lobbying effort will be difficult. A committee vote is expected next week.

During the hearing, supporters argued that such anti-discrimination law has already helped right wrongs in Maryland. For instance, they said, three female police academy graduates were denied employment with the state police based on past sexual relationships with other women.

But because then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer issued an order in 1993 that prohibited discrimination against state employees based on sexual orientation, the women were eventually offered jobs.

"The need for this law is obvious," said Susan Silber of the Women's Bar Association of Maryland.

Mr. Phillips, the Baptist pastor, remained unconvinced. Quoting scripture, he said homosexuality ran contrary to natural law and religious teaching.

When God created human beings and placed them in the Garden of Eden, "He didn't say 'Adam and Steve,' " Mr. Phillips told legislators "He said 'Adam and Eve.' "

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