Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mixed Bag in Annapolis



Marriage amendment was thwarted but so was transgender equality legislation

Senate leadership blamed for the trans-equality defeat

By Steve Charing
Senior Political Analyst

ANNAPOLIS—The Maryland General Assembly, which had been preoccupied throughout most of the session so far with a statewide smoking ban, the death penalty, health care, ground rent, budget concerns and myriad other matters, finally addressed two of the most pressing items that concerned the lgbt community.

House Bill 919 that was authored by notorious homophobe Del. Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel) was rejected in the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 12-8, mostly along party lines. Two Democrats—Dels. Kevin Kelly (D-Allegany County) and Gerron Levi (D-Prince George’s County)—joined six Republicans to support the anti-marriage equality measure.

Besides proposing a constitutional amendment that would forever ban same-sex marriages in the state, the bill also included a provision that would prevent public schools from teaching about same-sex relationships.

The defeat of the measure in committee kept it from advancing to the floor of the House of Delegates where it was unlikely to be passed anyway and was opposed by Governor Martin O’Malley.

"It’s gratifying to see the demise of such a mean-spirited bill," said Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of
Equality Maryland, the state’s largest lgbt civil rights organization.

The constitutional amendment effort will probably gain new life should the state Court of Appeals rule favorably in the lawsuit that is challenging Maryland’s 1973 marriage law that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman. The expectation is that the ruling will be handed down following the current General Assembly session, which would undoubtedly add more turbulence prior to and including the 2008 session.

"The pressure isn’t as heavy right now in the absence of a Court ruling," Furmansky told Baltimore OUTloud. "We must all vigilantly continue to build relationships with our legislators so they will steadfastly show resolve when we most need it."

Most infuriating to lgbt activists, however, was the surprising defeat of Senate Bill 516 in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee by a vote of 6-5. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore), would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in the areas of employment, housing, credit and public accommodations.
Equality Maryland had assigned passage of this legislation a high priority in its 2007 legislative agenda.

Again, two Democrats—Sen. Norm Stone of Baltimore County and Sen. C. Anthony Muse (pictured) of Prince George's County—aligned with four Republicans on the committee to kill the measure. Sen. Muse, in particular, had indicated his support to Equality Maryland lobbyists and others prior to the vote.

"Senator Muse changed his vote," Furmansky said with exasperation. "We had his vote. Clearly there were mysterious outside forces that made Senator Muse backtrack at the last minute."

Repeated phone calls seeking comments from Sen. Muse regarding his role in defeating the bill and an explanation as to why he changed his mind at the eleventh hour were not returned. His vote, consequently, turned victory into defeat. Sen. Muse’s 26th district includes the Ft. Washington-Camp Springs area.

The bill had no ostensible opposition and seemed like a sure bet to advance to the floor. But it surprisingly got bogged down in committee, which is chaired by Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery County), and was eventually doomed by the vote taken on March 23.

"Individuals told us the Senate leadership feared a filibuster on the floor," said Furmansky. "We believed [the filibuster fear] was unfounded as we spoke to several Republican Senators who saw no such problem. Plus the Democratic super-majority would have easily squelched such a tactic."

Dr. Dana Beyer, a transgendered woman from Chevy Chase who unsuccessfully ran for House of Delegates this past election, was personally disappointed in the actions of the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee that killed this bill. "We had the votes in this committee, as well as the House committee and both houses, until leadership decided to quash it," she told OUTloud.

"Leadership means standing up for and protecting the rights of those less fortunate," said Dr. Beyer. "Many in the General Assembly understand this and recognize that transgender anti-discrimination is simply a medical issue. I sincerely thank them for their time and support. We obviously have more education to do over the coming year. And I guarantee we will do it," she vowed.

Added Dan Furmansky, "We will continue our important work across Maryland to educate people on the lives of transgender individuals and the difficulties we face with discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. And we will return in 2008 stronger than ever to pass this long overdue measure."

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