Maryland lawmakers killed yesterday a gay-rights bill that would have prohibited discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation.
It is the fourth consecutive year a committee of the House of Delegates has defeated the proposal.
With little debate, the Commerce and Government Matters Committee voted 12-7 against House Bill 213, --ing advocates' hopes that a different panel and numerous new faces in the legislature would help the bill's chances.
The House Judiciary Committee shot the proposal down the last three years, including a 10-10 vote in 1994.
"We are a bit surprised and certainly are disappointed," Robert St. Genis, a spokesman for the Free State Justice Campaign, said yesterday. His organization is a coalition of gay, lesbian and civil rights groups.
"We thought we had a much better response, at least in terms of people listening to us in this committee," he said. "But it is obvious that there is much more educating that needs to be done. We're not going away until this is through."
Mr. St. Genis said he was particularly hopeful this year because of the support of Gov. Parris N. Glendening and of the chairman of Commerce and Government Matters, Del. Gerald J. Curran, a Baltimore Democrat.
Yesterday, during an afternoon voting session, Mr. Curran was the only one to speak at length on the measure.
"I'm supportive of this bill, and that is not to be confused in any way with being supportive of homosexual activity," Mr. Curran said. "I just feel we ought not to be discriminating against anyone.
"I believe people are born this way; I don't believe that you develop a drive or an appetite for this kind of thing," he said. "If you believe as I do, then you should support this bill."
The measure would prohibit sexually based discrimination, just as it now is banned on the basis of race, age, marital status or physical or mental handicap. The bill would apply to public accommodations, housing, schools, health and welfare services.
Since 1983, eight states, including California and New Jersey, have passed similar laws, as have several of Maryland's counties and municipalities.
During a hearing on the bill last month, gays, lesbians and members of their families recalled for the committee examples of discrimination in the workplace, in housing and in health care.
Over the years, opponents of such protections have ranged from conservative Christian groups to the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, which have expressed fears that the legislation could hamper the ability of businesses to hire and fire.
Conrae Fortlage, a Howard County resident and a member of Concerned Women for America, a conservative group, testified last month that she believes the bill would improperly give homosexuals minority status.
"We cannot give special rights for sexual behavior," Mrs. Fortlage said. "What about people who say they like children? Where will this stop?"