The celebration from last spring following the passage of SB 205?the Anti-Discrimination Act of 2001, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodation?has become short-lived after the announcement that a coalition of conservative religious and political leaders garnered enough signatures to bring the bill to a state-wide referendum in 2002. Sadly, what was viewed as a step forward for the equal rights of gays will now revert to a tug-of-war battle between special interest groups on both sides of the political spectrum. Similar protections offered to other minority groups remain unavailable to individuals who identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual.
Passage of the “gay rights bill” made Maryland the 12th state to offer legal protection to sexual minorities. The text of the bill simply adds the words “sexual orientation” to a list of factors, which includes race, sex, color, creed, ancestry or national origin, marital status and disability, that cannot be used to discriminate against individuals. Taking into account the unfounded fear that such a law would offer the legal grounds for gays and lesbians to demand marriage and domestic-partner benefits, the drafters of the bill even added paragraphs that claimed it could not be construed to “authorize ? a marriage between two individuals of the same sex ? to require an employer to offer health insurance benefits to unmarried domestic partners ? [or] to mandate any public or private educational institution to promote any form of sexuality or sexual orientation.” Such unnecessary clarifications were not required with the passage of other equal rights bills and yet, even with them, some groups still believe that the most basic equal protections to gays and lesbians should not be permitted.
Opponents to the bill, who raised 47,539 signatures to bring the law to all of Maryland’s voters next year, organized themselves around a website called TakeBackMaryland.org. The site does not make it clear who or what its members are taking back Maryland from, but it does feature numerous items of propaganda, such as articles titled “The Innate-Immutable Argument Finds No Basis in Science” and “The Homosexual Propaganda and Media Manipulation Game” that use language deliberately aimed at inciting outrage towards at the homosexual community for the “outrage and evil” that it has caused. Rather than accept that gays and lesbians are people and citizens just like them, the supporters of TakeBackMaryland.org choose to make statements such as ” ? the constant ‘sexualization’ of our neighborhoods, workplaces and schools by the sexual anarchists must stop now.”
Maryland voters must look past this intolerant rhetoric and recognize that the protection of all its residents and citizens is of the utmost importance. Until next fall, one group of the population will remain vulnerable to discrimination and will continue to do so if the law is overturned. Instead of preventing change, voters should look to the future, set an example for other states and vote yes on the referendum for the Anti-Discrimination Act of 2001. In doing so, they will be showing their support for equality, acceptance and protection.