Maryland conservatives petition against measures they see as gay rights bills
Conservative and Christian groups in Maryland are mounting a widespread effort against bills passed in the recent general assembly session that they say promote a "homosexual agenda." The legislation would add gays to the categories of people protected under the state's hate-crime laws, allow unmarried couples to make property transfers without paying state or local transfer taxes, and require schools to report bullying incidents.
Tres Kerns, executive director of VoteMarriage.org and Take Back Maryland, filed petition requests last week with the Maryland state board of elections to repeal the bills through voter referendums. "We don't feel that the citizens of Maryland have really had a chance to vote on whether homosexuality should be considered a special class of citizens or not," Kerns said.
Kerns's groups, along with the Christian Coalition of Maryland, Defend Maryland Marriage, and the Family Protection Lobby, also support petition efforts by Republican delegate Donald H. Dwyer Jr. to repeal a bill that would give unmarried couples medical decision-making rights. "We've had a fair number of phone calls with questions, which lets me know people want to make sure they're doing it right. It's early, but everything seems to be going in the right direction," Dwyer said Monday. He added that he doesn't know how many signatures so far have been collected.
The loosely knit network of groups, using e-mails and Web sites, is also urging members to lobby Republican governor Robert Ehrlich Jr. to veto the bills. "Pray that God's will be done and that all the churches rise up against these bills," says an e-mail distributed to members of the Christian Coalition of Maryland. On the VoteMarriage.org Web site, the gay rights agenda is described as working to "program future youth to be led as lambs into the dangerous and denigrating homosexual lifestyle."
To get referendums on the 2006 ballot, opponents must collect 51,195 signatures for each of the four bills by June 30 of this year. No more than half of the signatures can come from one county or the city of Baltimore, and one third must be filed by May 31. After the signatures are filed, the state board of elections would have 20 days to certify them and approve or reject the petitions. A successful petition drive would suspend the laws until after the 2006 general election, when voters would decide whether to repeal them.
In the past 14 years, petition efforts of this sort have been successful once. In 1991, opponents of a bill to prohibit state interference in abortion succeeded in getting it on the ballot. But voters ultimately did not support repealing the bill. In 2001, Kerns launched a petition effort to repeal a bill that added gays to the state's antidiscrimination laws. The petition was successfully challenged in court and did not make it onto the ballot.
Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, a statewide gay rights group, said his group has met with the attorney who successfully challenged the 2001 petition attempt and the American Civil Liberties Union. "They can expect a legal challenge around every corner," Furmansky said. "We'll work to do everything we can to prevent these [bills] from making it onto the ballot."
Democratic delegate Richard S. Madaleno questioned the title of the antibullying bill, the Safe Schools Reporting Act of 2005, as an encouragement to minors to become gay. "I guess the whole idea is a 14-year-old should be beaten senseless in order to be a straight person," said Madaleno. Kerns and other opponents of the bill say they fear the bill would be used to discuss homosexuality in the classroom. (AP)