Gov. Parris N. Glendening said yesterday that he would not renew his push for gay-rights legislation in next year's General Assembly session, saying that such an effort would be futile, given the conservative makeup of a key Senate committee.
Expressing lingering dismay with the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee's rejection of his gay-rights proposal during this year's session, the governor said he saw little hope for the measure during the remaining three years of the legislature's four-year term.
"Unless there's some change in the committee, that effort will not be successful at this time," Glendening said.
Key legislators said that without the governor's sponsorship and aggressive lobbying, the measure would be almost impossible to pass next year.
"That bill took the governor's strong imprimatur and his aggressive push to move through the House of Delegates" this year, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "Unless it has that type of push again, I would think the bill would face a very difficult time."
In an interview, the governor stressed that he considers discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation "an extremely important issue [involving] simple basic protections."
He added that while he would not be introducing such a measure as part of his legislative package, he would "vigorously" support such a bill if it were introduced by others.
This year, Glendening became the first Maryland governor to introduce a gay-rights measure and undertook intense, personal lobbying, even taking the unusual step of testifying for the measure before a House committee.
The governor told lawmakers about his brother, Bruce, who was gay but was forced to keep his orientation a secret or face the end of his career in the Air Force. Bruce Glendening died of AIDS several years ago.
The governor's proposed law would have prohibited discrimination in employment and housing because of sexual orientation.
While gay-rights bills had been introduced and defeated for eight previous years, Glendening won approval for his bill in the House Judiciary Committee and then in the House of Delegates on a vote of 80 to 56.
But the legislation ran into trouble in the 11-member Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, considered the Assembly's most conservative panel.
Glendening personally lobbied several committee members on the bill, but with little success. The panel never took a formal roll call, but the measure appeared to have support from no more than four members -- two short of the number needed to pass it.
Miller said yesterday that he plans to make one change to the committee before next year's session -- moving Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. to another panel for unrelated reasons.
Miller would not say who he plans to move to the Judicial Proceedings Committee. Even if a gay-rights backer took the place of Stone, who never took a public position on the bill, supporters would still need to find at least one more vote on the committee.
Carolyn Battle, a board member of Free State Justice, a group lobbying for gay rights, said she was disappointed with the governor's decision but said advocates would continue to push for legislation next year.
"That's very discouraging. We thought he would fight the good fight again," Battle said. "We just have to work harder. The people of the state of Maryland support this legislation."
Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Carroll County Republican on the Judicial Proceedings Committee and an opponent of the measure, said he was pleased that Glendening would not push the issue. "I think he understands that clearly the votes are there to vote down any of that type of legislation," Haines said. "Why take the time of the legislature if it's going to just stall in the committee again?"
House leaders have told Glendening that the House will not take up a gay-rights bill next year unless it is approved first by the Senate -- to spare delegates from another round of intense, but pointless, lobbying.
"It's one of those things that just takes an awful lot of energy out of everybody to go through it when you know it's not going to go anywhere," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr.
Taylor said he hopes a gay-rights bill does pass the Senate, but, like Miller, he said such a measure will have trouble without Glendening's full-blown support. "I'm sure that if the governor doesn't work hard at it, it's not going to happen," said Taylor, a Cumberland Democrat.
Glendening said that unless the Senate committee changes its outlook, the next major vote on the issue could fall to the public in the 2002 election.
At least one Republican on the Senate committee, Sen. Alex X. Mooney of Frederick County, has used the gay-rights issue as a fund-raising tool among his conservative supporters.