Anti-Bias Law Wins In Md.'s High Court
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
A Montgomery County law banning discrimination against transgender people took effect yesterday, county attorneys said, after the state's highest court rejected a petition effort that would have forced the issue to a referendum.
The measure, passed by the County Council in November, had been set to take effect in February, but it was blocked when some religious and conservative groups launched the petition effort.
The dispute soon moved to court, where the two sides argued procedural points, disagreeing on such issues as the number of signatures necessary to place the matter on the November ballot.
Yesterday, the Court of Appeals issued a brief order reversing a lower court ruling that had sided with the law's opponents. The high court said it would explain the basis for its ruling in a later opinion.
Jonathan Shurberg, an attorney for Equality Maryland, which led the challenge of the ballot initiative, said the court's decision ensured the integrity of the referendum process.
"The court gave a ringing endorsement to the principle that ordinary citizens have the right to challenge and test the validity of a petition submitted to referendum," Shurberg said.
Ruth Jacobs, president of Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government, a group that worked to force the referendum, called it a sad day.
"We've been disenfranchised," she said. "Every single signature was a wish to have an opportunity to have a vote."
The high court heard arguments in the case Monday and had to rule swiftly because state officials are required to certify language for the Nov. 4 ballot by today. The court's two-page order, signed by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, indicated only that a majority of the court concurred in reversing the Circuit Court ruling in the case.
The anti-discrimination law, similar to measures in the District and dozens of other jurisdictions, was passed unanimously by the County Council last year and signed into law by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).
The law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in housing, employment, taxi service, cable service and public accommodations.
Opponents, including some parents and religious groups, said they were worried about how the law might be applied to public restrooms and health club locker rooms. They gathered thousands of signatures to force the issue to a vote in November.