2008 General Assembly

Key Figures on the Legislative Front Lines

Stories by Lisa Rein, John Wagner and Philip Rucker, Washington Post Staff Writers

Civil Rights Activist

Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt
(Courtesy Of Gwendolyn Britt)

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

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