Two years ago, Republican Del. Neil Parrott and MdPetitions.com had become so adept at petitioning Maryland laws to referendum that some Democrats, Gov. Martin O'Malley included, urged the General Assembly to make it tougher to do. How foolish that looks now.
Over the weekend, the conservative group came up short in its efforts to petition to referendum the transgender rights law passed this year by the legislature. MdPetitions.com had only to produce 18,500 signatures by midnight on Saturday — a goal the organization had little trouble meeting previously when it petitioned same-sex marriage or Maryland's version of the Dream Act in recent years.
The opponents even had an over-the-top message designed to instill fear in the populace: They labeled the law the "Bathroom Bill," cravenly suggesting that civil rights legislation designed to protect transgender individuals from being discriminated against in the workplace, in public accommodations and housing was actually providing cover for sexual predators to attack children in Maryland's restrooms.
Why did opponents come up short? Despite the heightened political awareness of an election year and a fearful message (and one that's been echoed by quite a few ill-informed GOP candidates for state office, unfortunately), a whole lot of voters just weren't buying what Delegate Parrott was selling. They were not scared because they knew they had no reason to be.
Just as MdPetitions.com came up short last year when it attempted to put Maryland's death penalty repeal on the ballot (also halted at the initial 18,500 signature requirement), the organizers discovered that most voters simply don't share their opinion. Marylanders didn't regard the end of capital punishment as a threat to society, and they don't think banning discrimination is a bad idea either — and that includes a lot of Republicans.
That the laws Delegate Parrott had actually succeeding in putting on the ballot have subsequently lost by large margins may be a factor, too, but probably not a big one as people don't usually approach petition drives with that kind of calculation ("I would love to sign that petition but I suspect a majority of Maryland voters won't agree with me at the ballot box so I won't").
Here's the reality of the bill opponents tried so hard to smear. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia already have adopted similar laws, and so have four of Maryland's largest subdivisions, including Baltimore County where the "bathroom bill" hysteria was tried and failed in 2012. That should have been the political barometer as the Baltimore County Council is not exactly known for being on the cutting edge of social progress.
The law is necessary because transgender people get harassed in school, denied rental apartments, unfairly refused employment and mistreated in restaurants — the infamous beating of Chrissy Lee Polis in a Rosedale McDonald's in 2011 having put a public face on the problem. This kind of discrimination against a powerless group can no longer be tolerated.
We don't doubt that Mr. Parrott and others can find instances of sexual predators invading bathrooms, but the notion that this law would somehow amplify that threat was absurd. Transgender individuals already use bathrooms, and the law protects only those individuals whose gender identity is "sincerely held as part of the person's core identity," not to just any Tom, Dick or Mary putting on a particular style of clothing.
Kudos as well to members of Equality Maryland and other supporters of the law who calmly and rationally explained its necessity through websites and similar means of social outreach to people who probably hadn't given the issue of gender identity much thought. Too bad lawmakers couldn't bring themselves to approve the bill earlier.
Make no mistake, the voter referendum has its place as a check and balance on the actions of government. But there is a reason why measures like the Fairness for All Marylanders Act pass the General Assembly in the first place despite directly helping only a small number of people who collectively could barely elect a delegate, let alone a governor. It's because Marylanders support tolerance and fairness to all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, gender or gender identity, a view the political party of Abraham Lincoln ought to better understand.
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