SIXTEEN MONTHS before the vote, passions already are running high over an anti-discrimination law that would protect gays in the workplace, when they rent or buy homes or in restaurants and hotels.
It shouldn't be so controversial. The law passed in the spring isn't that different from what's on the books in 11 states and in Baltimore City and Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
It's the same anti-bias law that already applies here on the basis of race, sex, creed, color, religion, national origin, marital status and physical or mental handicaps.
But religious conservatives gathered enough signatures to force a referendum in November 2002.
They are distorting what's in the bill, pandering to people's worst instincts. To hear them tell it, this law would create a licentious Sodom and Gomorrah.
That's just not so. Similar gay-rights laws haven't "sexualized" the schools in Nevada, Vermont or Minnesota. They haven't created vast housing or workplace issues in New Hampshire, New Jersey or Wisconsin.
Yet anyone who read an Opinion
Commentary article yesterday from Tres Kerns, chairman of takebackmaryland.org, the anti-gay rights group, would get the impression Maryland's gay-rights measure will shake the very foundations of our state.
For the record, let's look at what the law actually says.
Foes allege it will open schools to a "sexual agenda." Mr. Kerns even states the law covers schools under the guise of "public accommodations."
That is inaccurate. "Public accommodations" are defined very specifically in the law - and they don't include schools.
To underline that point, the legislature added a clause that the law "does not mandate any public or private educational institution to promote any form of sexuality or sexual orientation or to include such matters in its curriculum."
Other clauses make it clear the law does not authorize same-sex marriages; does not require businesses to offer health insurance to "domestic partners"; and does not endorse homosexuality.
Also, the law exempts religious organizations and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts as well as homeowners renting rooms or apartments in their residences.
Gays would simply be treated the same as other individuals.
So what's the problem? Tolerance has been a hallmark of this state ever since its founding.
Yet a state commission found numerous examples of discriminatory practices against gays in Maryland.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening said this weekend that the opposition wants the state to discriminate against a class of people just because of their sexual orientation. That's not right. It's not acceptable.
We can do better.
We can send a message in November 2002 that Maryland welcomes diversity of all kinds, that this melting pot has room for anyone willing to abide by the rules of law and treat other people fairly.