Sending a clear signal that he intends to return gay rights to his agenda for next year, Gov. Parris N. Glendening created a commission yesterday to draft legislation to forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Glendening, who fought a losing battle to pass a similar bill in 1999, said the commission would also recommend executive actions he could take to ban such discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.
"We must value the gay and lesbian members of Maryland's family as we value all members of our family," the governor said.
Michael Morrill, Glendening's chief spokesman, said the names of the members and the chair of the panel would be announced by early next week.
The commission will be told to produce a preliminary report - with recommendations for legislation - by Dec. 15, in time for the administration to prepare a bill for introduction in the General Assembly session that begins in January.
A final report, taking into account any action by the Assembly, will be due July 1.
The governor's action indicates that legislators can look forward to a contentious struggle pitting conservative religious activists against advocates of civil rights for homosexuals.
Two years ago, a bill forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation passed the House of Delegates after Glendening made the bill a personal crusade in which he invoked the memory of a gay brother who died of AIDS.
The legislation died in the conservative Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee without receiving a vote.
Last year, faced with the prospect of bringing the same bill before the same committee, the governor left the legislation off his agenda. An anti-discrimination bill was introduced and received his endorsement, but made no progress.
No new supporters of gay rights have been named to the Judicial Proceedings Committee since 1999, so it is unclear whether next year's legislation would have any better prospects.
Morrill said the commission could recommend a different version of the legislation introduced two years ago. "What needs to be changed, if anything, is not clear at this moment," he said.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal in Baltimore City and in Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties. According to the governor's office, 11 states and the District of Columbia also have such laws.
The commission is expected to examine those statutes.