House panel approves gay, lesbian rights bill

Proposal is amended to match Senate version

March 29, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

One day after a decisive Senate vote, a House of Delegates committee swiftly approved yesterday a proposal to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in Maryland.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 13-8 to send the measure to the full House, where it is expected to be easily approved. The committee amended the bill to exactly match the version that cleared the Senate 34-12 Tuesday.

"The fact is, if there is one case of discrimination that can be prevented or one case of discrimination that needs to be adjudicated, then we need to have the law in place," said Del. Kenneth C. Montague Jr., a Baltimore Democrat. "We need to put people on notice that the law in Maryland is not to allow that kind of behavior to happen."

The legislation - a top priority of Gov. Parris N. Glendening - would add gays and lesbians to the groups protected by the state law banning discrimination in housing and employment.

Supporters of the bill say it is necessary to provide overdue protections to people who have no legal recourse against discrimination.

Opponents say the state shouldn't provide legal protection to homosexuals and describe the measure as government endorsement of behavior they see as immoral. "Gays and lesbians are not minorities as I am," said Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., a Baltimore County Democrat. "For them to come in here and claim a minority status the same as I am is utter hypocrisy."

Montgomery, Howard and Prince George's counties and Baltimore have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, but there is no statewide statute.

During yesterday's committee debate, supporters of the bill rejected attempts by opponents to amend it to make it different from the Senate version. That could have jeopardized the legislation by forcing a House-Senate conference committee.

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