Senators filibuster rights bill for gays

Mooney, Harris leading attempt to defeat measure

March 27, 2001|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

Two state senators filibustered into the early hours of this morning to stall passage of a bill to extend Maryland's anti-bias law to cover gays and lesbians.

Republican Sen. Alex X. Mooney of Frederick began speaking on the Senate floor at 10:25 p.m., reading aloud newspaper and journal articles about gays in the workplace and other topics. He didn't stop until just before midnight, when Sen. Andrew P. Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, took over and began reading a court opinion about whether the Boy Scouts could expel a New Jersey troop leader because he is gay.

At 12:10 a.m., an attempt to shut off debate fell seven votes short of the 32 needed, and Mooney continued to hold the floor.

The bill Mooney and Harris protested would add homosexuals to the list of groups protected by the Maryland law banning discrimination in housing and employment. The legislation is a top priority of Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

"We're filibustering not to kill the bill, but because of religious rights," Harris said in an interview. "I'm a physician, so I could go on for hours. I'm used to staying up all night."

The bill's supporters said Harris and Mooney were only delaying the inevitable. "Everyone knows there are the votes" to pass the bill, said Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat.

He said final passage could come today or tomorrow.

During the filibuster, the 47-member Senate floor was often two-thirds empty. Those present drank coffee and talked on the phone. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller waived a rule preventing members from eating and drinking on the floor.

Mooney has been a critic of the bill since a similar measure died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee two years ago without a vote. He argued during the 1999 battle that it was wrong to afford homosexuals the same protection from discrimination afforded women, racial minorities and members of religious groups.

Before taking the floor to filibuster, Harris said he and Mooney were hoping for approval of an amendment granting individuals the right to avoid the bill's requirements because of their religious beliefs. But the measure's supporters said the amendment was an attempt to gut the bill.

Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

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