Maryland senate president Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, whom some advocates blamed for the setback of a transgender civil rights bill last week, deemed the legislation to be "antifamily" in the waning days of the legislative session.
Maryland Public Television interviewed Miller for its State Circle program that aired April 8, three days before the conclusion of legislative business. Last Monday the senate voted to recommit the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act to committee, killing its prospects for passage this year despite the bill's having surmounted numerous obstacles to reach the senate floor in the final hours of the 90-day session.
"I personally believe it's antifamily, and so I am going to vote against it," said Miller in the interview. "The problem is this: I have senators that are not going to hire, uh, people with male sexual organs who wear a dress to serve as receptionists, OK? Um, and so if they're not going to do it, if the senators and house members themselves wouldn't hire a person in that category, how can we say to constituents, you've got to do this?"
The measure, known as House Bill 235, would prohibit discrimination against transgender Marylanders in housing, credit, and employment, but not public accommodations. Advocates said the exclusion of public accommodations, while not ideal, was necessary in order to secure support for the bill, which this year for the first time advanced from committee and passed the house of delegates last month before dying in the senate. Its multiple resuscitations included a last-minute lobbying effort to rescue the bill from the rules committee, where it appeared all but dead, and assign it to the judicial proceedings committee, which moved it to the senate floor.
Following the senate setback last week, advocates faulted the Democratic leadership to a significant degree for the 27-20 vote to recommit the gender identity bill to committee. Equality Maryland named six Democrats, including committee chairs and one senator honored by the group in 2009, among those who had repeatedly pledged support only to vote to yank the bill abruptly.
"We absolutely had the commitments. We had more than the 24 that we needed," said Equality Maryland executive director Morgan Meneses-Sheets in an interview last week. "At the end of the day, the leadership in the senate pushed for the recommit, we didn't. We had the votes, but enough of those votes supported the recommit."
Transgender advocate Dana Beyer suggested that some insiders concluded Miller did not want to pass the bill and leaned hard on his Democratic senators because of spite over other equality legislation. According to this thinking, he felt angry that his members had gone on record with a controversial vote on marriage equality, which polls indicate voters support by a razor-thin margin, only to see the Democratic-controlled house use the recommit procedure to yank a final vote last month when support came up a few votes short. Although opposed to marriage equality, Miller, the longest serving state senate president in Maryland and throughout the country, had promised not to block a vote in his chamber, which passed the measure for the first time in February.
"We believe that he basically decided to hold one of the communities hostage because another part of the community was involved in actions that really upset him," said Beyer. "This was his way of punishing us. He feels that his people were hung out to dry."
The office of Senator Miller did not respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Rich Madaleno, the out gay lead sponsor of the marriage equality bill, said he believed that Miller "absolutely" contributed to the setback of the gender identity bill, but not for reasons of political retaliation.
"I don't think it was out of spite over marriage," he said. "I don't think he appreciates the need for moving this legislation forward."
Watch the MPT report about the gender identity bill, which includes the comments from Miller, beginning at the 6:40 mark.