A conservative group trying to force a referendum on a transgender rights law scheduled to take effect this fall did not get the required signatures needed to bring the issue to a vote.
The group, MDPetitions.com, was attempting to get 18,500 signatures by midnight Saturday to get the issue on the November ballot, but said on its website it was about 1,000 shy.
"It is difficult to come this close and then fall short, and yet we know that it was only through this effort that people became aware of the effects of this bill," Washington County Del. Neil Parrott, a Republican who chairs MDPetitions.com, said in a letter on the group's website.
Parrott did not return several phone calls seeking comment, but said in his letter word about the petition drive had spread too slowly.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has signed the bill that is to take effect Oct. 1, expressed gratitude the petition effort failed. He said it is in line with bills legalizing gay marriage and protecting the rights of immigrants that have also passed in the state.
"We are One Maryland — united in a belief in the dignity of every individual. We passed marriage equality and successfully defended it at the ballot box, we passed the DREAM Act to expand opportunity to all of our neighbors, and we extended protections for gender identity," O'Malley said in a statement. "Marylanders stand on the side of fairness and progress, and we will keep moving forward together."
The legislation protects transgender people against discrimination in employment and housing. But opponents, who dubbed it the "Bathroom Bill," said they were concerned because the bill upholds a transgender person's right to use public bathrooms and locker rooms for the gender with which they identify. They said the change would enable sexual predators to prey on children.
Supporters said the law would apply only to people who have shown they clearly identify with one gender, and not to a man who might put on a dress to sneak into a women's bathroom. Any illegal acts committed by a person in a bathroom remain illegal.
Along with having the governor's support, the legislation also passed both the Senate and the House of Delegates by wide margins. It was opposed by most Republicans and some socially conservative Democrats.
If the group had met the deadline, a total of 55,736 validated signatures would have been needed by June 30 to get the measure on the ballot.
Parrott said in his letter this would not be the group's last effort to kill the law.
"At this point, our next step is to find out who voted for this bill, and let them know our opinion," he said. "This bill should be repealed in the next session, after the next election when many new legislators have taken office."
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