Last edited: January 02, 2005

Maryland Front Should Remain Quiet

After 2001, Gay Activists Anticipate a Calm Year in the State Legislature

The Washington Blade, January 11, 2002

By Kara Fox

ANNAPOLIS, Md.Marylands first openly lesbian legislator was formerly introduced as the new House Majority Leader Wednesday, Jan. 9, during the opening session of the General Assembly, to a standing ovation among her colleagues.

Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore), appointed by House Speaker Casper Taylor (D-Allegany) in July, recognized her sister, mother, niece and nephew during the session, and promptly starting giving orders in her new capacity. McIntoshs introduction, noting her as the first woman to hold her position, was the most exciting event likely to happen during the upcoming session for gays, according to activists.

So far, a bill that includes rewording the states sodomy laws is the only one on the legislative plate this year that specifically affects gays. No anti-gay bills have been introduced, and gay activists note that they are focusing their efforts on upcoming elections in November.

Three years after the Maryland Attorney Generals Office agreed to stop enforcing the states laws prohibiting oral and anal sex between consensual partners in the privacy of their own homes, reflecting a ruling from the Baltimore City Circuit Court, the Speaker of the House is sponsoring a bill that updates Marylands criminal laws to reflect court cases that have overturned those laws; but the bill would not repeal the states sodomy law.

House Bill 11 states "that the following sections of the Annotated Code of Maryland be repealed," listing hundreds of laws to be repealed under the Crimes & Punishments article of the state law. Included are sections "553 and 554 and the subheading Sodomy." Section 553 states that "every person convicted of the crime of sodomy shall be sentenced to the penitentiary for not more than 10 years." Section 554 calls oral sex an "unnatural" and "perverted sexual practice" and makes it illegal with a fine up to $1,000 or up to 10 years in jail. Although the measure states that the law is repealed under that article, it reinstates it under another article, with new language.

The bill states that the new section "is new language derived without substantive change from" the former law, which does not change the law in any way. However, the measure does mention in passing the court case, Williams v. Glendening, that made the law unenforceable. It states "that the revision is not intended in any way to alter judicial interpretation of this section or to affect the scope of its application to any activity."

Even though the laws are not enforceable in the state, they are still used by conservatives against advancing equal rights for gays.

"The activity [sodomy] is not illegal under Maryland law, but there is still definitely a problem," said Dwight Sullivan of the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union who worked on the case that overturned the law in the courts in 1999. "Someone could overlook the Williams case. We would like a statute [written] to agree with [the Williams case]. I think the General Assembly should repeal [the sodomy provisions] or rewrite them to reflect the statute."

Sullivan said when the judge ruled on the Williams case, he wrote a note to the Criminal Law Article Review Committee, the committee that rewrote the law, to have them repeal or rewrite the sodomy laws to reflect the court case.

"It looks like what the committee did, did not improve the previous law, unfortunately," Sullivan said.

Besides the sodomy law, no other legislation currently slated for introduction in this years legislative session will have any direct impact on gays. Activists thought they would still be fighting the referendum brought by the right wing against the anti-discrimination law that protects gays, which was passed during last years session. The referendum ultimately failed in court and was enacted in November. Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), who has been a stalwart proponent of gay civil rights, told the Blade in August that he would not be introducing any gay rights bill this year, and activists say they want to focus on the upcoming election in November.

"Its pretty quiet," Blake Humphreys, managing director of Free State Justice, Marylands largest gay civil rights group, said of the upcoming session. "With it being an election year and with the huge success [of the anti-discrimination law] last year, it would be hard to get anything passed this year."

Humphreys said his organization will focus on defeating any anti-gay measures that may be introduced this year, educating legislators on safe schools legislation, hate crimes, domestic partner benefits, and adding transgendered individuals to the anti-discrimination law for the future; and making sure pro-gay supporters are re-elected in the upcoming November general election. He added that Free State Justice would also be keeping an eye on the right wings attempt to change the states election process.

Tres Kerns, head of Take Back Maryland, the conservative group that headed the repeal last year of the anti-discrimination law, told the Blade in November that his organization would try to pass a law that would make it "easier for ordinary citizens to petition." He said he wanted the laws made clearer and the dates changed for when petition signatures were due. Kerns had contended that because of the state law regarding gathering petition signatures, his group did not have enough signatures to put the question regarding the anti-discrimination law on the ballot.

A bill is being introduced this year regarding election law, Senate Bill 1, but it does not currently change the wording regarding gathering petition signatures.

INFO Free State Justice P.O. Box 13221 Baltimore, Md. 21203 301-891-1111

GLCBB 241 W. Chase St. Baltimore, Md. 21201 410-837-5445

ACLU 2219 St. Paul Street Baltimore, Md. 21218 410-889-8550

Shannon Avery, chair of the legislation and political action committee of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, & Transgender Community Center of Baltimore & Central Maryland, agreed.

"Our main focus on the statewide level is to support legislators who helped us pass the anti-discrimination legislation. We need to do everything we can to protect those who helped us and to unseat those who were hostile," Avery said. "Im hoping like most lame duck years in the legislature that this will be a quiet session. Hopefully we wont see any anti-gay legislation."

One race that both Humphreys and Avery noted as especially crucial is the race between notoriously anti-gay Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick) and gay-friendly Rep. Sue Hecht (D-Frederick/Washington). Hecht is looking to unseat Mooney in the Senate race in conservative Frederick County.

Both Humphreys and Avery noted that another priority would be to have transgendered persons added to the anti-discrimination statute in Baltimore.

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