Glendening reassures gay-rights advocates of his support for law; Governor to try to get legislation forbidding bias passed by 2002


Gov. Parris N. Glendening assured gay-rights advocates yesterday that he is committed to working with them to pass a state law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation before the end of his term.

Glendening did not promise to make an all-out push for the bill next year, said spokesman Michael Morrill. But the governor seemed to back off earlier statements that he saw little hope for passing the measure during the remainder of his term because of its defeat in the General Assembly in the spring.

This month, the governor disappointed allies in the gay community by saying he would not include the bill in his legislative package for the 2000 session.

This year's bill, which passed the House of Delegates with Glendening's vocal support and personal lobbying, died of inaction in the conservative Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

In his meeting with advocates yesterday, Glendening effectively pledged to make at least one more try for the legislation by 2002, whether the cause is hopeless or not.

Morrill said the governor would launch an even stronger effort for the measure, which would forbid discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

"There's no question that we're going to make sure this pot boils," he said.

Morrill held open the possibility that Glendening would change his mind about including the bill in his package for next year, saying it should be passed "as soon as possible."

Neither the activists nor the governor offered any specifics on how they could steer the bill past the legislative rocks on which it foundered this year.

Conservative Republicans in the Judicial Proceedings Committee offered amendment after amendment in a successful effort to delay and water down the bill. Meanwhile, few of the panel's Democrats displayed any enthusiasm for the measure despite heavy pressure from the governor.

Nancy Meyer, chairwoman of Free State Justice, said she was "extremely pleased" by the governor's message yesterday.

"He's definitely 100 percent committed to the issue," she said. "And he's committed to developing a winning strategy."

Meyer said the group had agreed to the governor's request to develop a plan to mobilize grass-roots support for the bill.

Morrill said Glendening's determination to pass such legislation had increased as a result of recent developments such as the Frederick County commissioners' decision to postpone action on a proposed gay-rights ordinance for a year.

"He is even more concerned when he sees elected officials use this in a divisive way," he said.

While Morrill did not criticize Sen. Alex X. Mooney directly, the spokesman made clear that one of the incidents that offended the governor was the Frederick Republican's recent fund-raising letter excoriating "radical homosexuals."

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