Any chance for General Assembly passage of gay rights legislation long championed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) is now dead for at least another year, according to a key Maryland lawmaker.
The governor said yesterday that he would not introduce legislation to protect discrimination against gay men and lesbians unless an important and increasingly conservative Senate committee changed its membership or he was able to draft the legislation in a way that it could be sent to a new committee.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) said neither of those things would happen during the next legislative session.
"It's a controversial bill," said Miller, who controls Senate committee membership and decides where bills are assigned.
Although legislation prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians passed the full House last year, it was bottled up in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, which has become the most conservative committee in the General Assembly.
"Unless there's a change in the committee or unless we find a way to draft the legislation to get it assigned to another committee, we're looking at the same" results as last year, Glendening said in an interview.
Miller said neither condition would be met. Asked if that meant gay rights legislation was dead for the next General Assembly session, Miller responded: "That's correct."
It is a bitter disappointment for Glendening, who said he is "angry and frustrated." Just last week, a close Glendening supporter said the governor told him recently that he planned to make an "aggressive" push for the proposal in the next session.
Glendening, whose brother died of AIDS, has made gay rights among his most personal of causes. Last year, he testified before a House panel on behalf of the legislation--the first time he ever had appeared before a legislative committee to push a proposal.
He said yesterday that his support for gay rights was undiminished. "If there are changes that give us a chance, I will push and push really hard" for a gay rights bill, the governor said.
Glendening also said he would support any gay rights proposals sponsored by other lawmakers; Del. Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Montgomery) has introduced such legislation for the last six years.
Last year, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee never formally voted on the proposal, which was publicly supported by only four members--two short of the majority.
The committee is chaired by a conservative Democrat, Walter M. Baker (Cecil), and includes many of the Senate's most vocal conservative Republicans: Richard Colburn (Dorchester), Timothy R. Ferguson (Carroll), Larry E. Haines (Carroll) and Alexander X. Mooney (Frederick).
Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Baltimore County), who did not publicly support the bill, has requested a move to another committee for the next session, which begins in January. That still leaves Glendening one vote short.
Although the House passed the proposal last year, Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. (D-Allegany) told Glendening that he wanted the Senate to consider any gay rights legislation first in the next session, the governor said.
Taylor could not be reached yesterday but has expressed disappointment that the Senate failed to consider the legislation last year.
Even without gay rights on his agenda, Glendening faces a tough battle in the Senate committee during the next session. The governor plans to introduce new gun safety legislation that eventually could require all handguns sold in the state to have special locks and other technology to prevent them from being fired accidentally.
Gun control opponents said they plan to fight any such proposals.
CAPTION: Gov. Parris N. Glendening has long championed gay rights legislation.