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Md. Approves Bills Extending Rights to Gay People

"This is a good solution," Madaleno said. "I beg of my colleagues to support this bill."

The measure is modeled on laws in several other states, including Hawaii, New Jersey and Maine. It would allow unmarried couples older than 18 who are living together to apply for a "certificate of life partnership" from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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The lengthy floor debate grew tense at one point, when Madaleno said he could not believe there were members who "find me so repulsive" that they can't allow him the rights afforded others. O'Donnell objected, saying, "We find nobody repulsive."

In the Senate, opponents of expanding the state's hate crimes law argued that the effort was misguided because many major religions consider homosexuality immoral. Under the current law, violators are subject to additional penalties if their crime is motivated by another person's race, color, religious beliefs or national origin.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Frederick) said adding sexual orientation was part of "a very extreme gay rights agenda."

But Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr. (D-Prince George's), who shepherded the bill through the chamber, said Maryland is "finally catching up to other states."

Twenty-nine other states and the District include sexual orientation as a protected class in their hate crimes laws, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a national advocacy group for gay and transgender rights. Virginia also is not among them.

Mooney said he was particularly troubled that the Maryland legislation includes crimes motivated by "gender-related identity," which includes transgender people, a group protected by the laws in eight states and the District.

Giannetti countered that "some of the most egregious crimes are committed against the transgender community."

A 1993 FBI report said more than 16 percent of reported hate crimes nationwide were based on sexual orientation.

The bill won approval yesterday after being amended to make clear that religious leaders and others who speak out against homosexuality in a peaceable way would not be committing a hate crime.

"I want to protect the people who have the moral and religious convictions who think [homosexuality is] wrong," said Sen. Larry E. Haines (R-Carroll).

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