FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BALTIMORE--Gays and lesbians in Maryland will have immediate equal protection in housing, employment and accommodations today as the state's Antidiscrimination Act of 2001 goes into effect, following legal action by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
""This is an enormous victory for Maryland gays and lesbians who now can live free from prejudice,"" said Dwight Sullivan, Managing Attorney for the ACLU of Maryland's Baltimore office. ""This is also a victory for all Marylanders as the Free State becomes one of just 12 states plus the District of Columbia that bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.""
A delay in the Oct. 1 effective date of the law occurred when ""TakeBackMaryland,"" a group seeking to deny equal protection to gays and lesbians in Maryland, filed petitions to put the measure on the fall 2002 ballot.
The ACLU of Maryland filed suit, charging that the referendum petitions filed by TakeBackMaryland did not meet the state constitutional standards for taking a popularly passed law to referendum. TakeBackMaryland stipulated today that they did not have enough valid signatures for a referendum under Maryland law.
Anne Arundel County Judge Eugene M. Lerner ruled today that TakeBackMaryland had an insufficient number of signatures and that the referendum on the Antidiscrimination Act would therefore not take place. Had there been a referendum vote in November of 2002, discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation could have continued legally (except in Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties and in state government) until the issue was decided by the voters.
Under Maryland law, today's stipulation means that the Antidiscrimination Act is now forever safe from referendum challenges.
After the signatures were filed and certified by the Maryland State Board of Elections, the ACLU, along with Charles J. Butler of the Washington law firm Covington & Burling and coalition partners, examined the petitions and found massive irregularities.
The ACLU then filed suit on behalf of Free State Justice and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center along with plaintiffs from virtually every county in the state (including Maryland's western and Eastern Shore counties). The ACLU's findings were confirmed and documented by Walter Childs, a distinguished Annapolis attorney who was appointed as a Special Master by Judge Lerner.
The Antidiscrimination Act was passed by the General Assembly in the spring of 2001 by approximately a 2-to-1 margin after eleven years of failed attempts. The bill was also passed after Governor Parris Glendening's Special Commission to Study Sexual Orientation Discrimination heard evidence of rampant discrimination against gays and lesbians statewide. Governor Glendening signed the bill on May 15, 2001.
This landmark civil rights legislation passed thanks to the work of a large and diverse group of advocates, including the ACLU, acting in its role as the state's foremost civil rights organization.
Dwight Sullivan led the ACLU's efforts in the case, Gelbman v. Willis. Co-counsel are Art Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area and D. Jean Veta, Charles J. Butler and Chad Tang, pro bono attorneys from the Washington, D.C. law firm of Covington & Burling.
For more information on state anti-discrimination laws, go to http://archive.aclu.org/issues/gay/hmgl.html.