2008 General Assembly
Key Figures on the Legislative Front Lines
Civil Rights Activist
Within hours of a court ruling in September upholding Maryland's 34-year-old ban on same-sex marriage, Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt made her intentions clear: She would become the Senate sponsor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage. Gay rights advocates were thrilled that a lifelong civil rights activist would rally to their cause.
In the 1960s, Britt (D-Prince George's) became a Freedom Rider fighting Jim Crow laws in Mississippi, where she spent 40 days in jail for sitting in a whites-only train station waiting room in 1961. Closer to home, Britt, 66, made headlines in Washington in 1960 when she and four other black friends sat on the merry-go-round at Glen Echo Park, segregated at the time, and were arrested for trespassing. Last year, she was the lead Senate sponsor of a bill to grant voting rights to ex-felons.
With many in the General Assembly's powerful black caucus opposing same-sex marriage on religious grounds, advocates see a respected ally in Britt, a retired human resources manager for Giant Food. She said that she knows the bill is a long shot this year but that the General Assembly is ready to debate this "underground issue."
-- Lisa Rein