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Campaign Beat

Out at the Polls

Examining Gay-rights Records in the Gubernatorial Race

By Natalie Davis | Posted 8/14/2002

Just because queer Marylanders have legal protections against discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment--thanks to the enactment of the Antidiscrimination Act of 2001--doesn't mean they should rest easy about the upcoming elections.

As a nonprofit organization, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland is not legally permitted to endorse candidates for public office. But Aimee Darrow, who chairs the GLCCB's community-outreach committee and sits on its board of trustees, urges voters to pay close attention to the issues raised during this campaign season--particularly in the gubernatorial race.

When asked about the likely general-election candidates for governor, Darrow points to Democratic front-runner Kathleen Kennedy Townsend--not to endorse her, but to indicate that the current lieutenant governor has shown a continuing interest in reaching out to the queer community.

"Kathleen comes to our events, and she was a strong supporter of the antidiscrimination bill," Darrow says. "It shows our community that she is welcoming and willing to listen to and act on our concerns."

"I have committed to having an inclusive and diverse administration based on the talents of our citizens, and without regard for who they love," Townsend says. "I have fought for the antidiscrimination bill--and I also fought against the meanspirited attempt to repeal the law."Townsend also notes her commitment to issues ranging from economic growth to education, concerns she says are important to every state resident.

Townsend also brings up U.S. Representative and likely Republican general-election candidate Robert Erlich's failing grade from the Human Rights Campaign, a national pro-gay lobbying group. Ehrlich scored a 10 on its 106th Congress scorecard. So far in the 107th Congress, the Republican candidate has earned a 33; the highest grade possible in this gauge of political gay-friendliness is 100.

"Look at their actions, not just their words," warns Joseph Zuber, vice president of the Maryland chapter of pro-gay political group Log Cabin Republicans. "A lot of gays just blindly vote for politicians because they are Democrats. They need to look at candidates as individuals. Look at their voting records. Look at what laws were not allowed to be brought up because of the powers-that-be," he says, noting that a Democrat-led General Assembly still took more than a decade to finally pass antidiscrimination legislation. "If Democrats could give us everything we want, well, we should already have marriage rights in Maryland."

Zuber says Log Cabin hopes to pass on its thoughts to Ehrlich if the candidate can find time in his schedule to meet with the organization. Meanwhile, Tisha Matthews, a Baltimore County resident and state employee who is a member of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community, says she already passed her thoughts on to Ehrlich, her congressperson. Last spring, Matthews sent Ehrlich a letter urging him to support the pending federal Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (HR 638), which would enable same-gender partners to gain some economic parity with married, heterosexual Americans.

In a reply letter dated May 29, Ehrlich informed his constituent that the legislation has been referred to the House of Representatives' Government Reform and Ways and Means committees and that he sits on neither panel. But he was willing to share his point of view on the issue.

"While I personally do not condone the promulgation of homosexual and bisexual activities, I have sworn an oath to represent my constituents and thereby to respect the broad diversity of Americans regardless of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and other distinguishing characteristics," he wrote, adding that he does not support the idea of domestic partners, whose role exists because of individuals' "choices in life," being placed on a par with "legally committed married spouses."

At the same time, Ehrlich continued, he will uphold whatever law is enacted, presenting as an example his refusal to overturn then-President Clinton's executive decision to include domestic partners in the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan. (According to a Human Rights Campaign survey, Ehrlich does maintain that sexual orientation is not a factor in hiring or firing within his office.)

City Paper tried to reach Ehrlich for comment on this story through two different press aides. Though we had been assured that Ehrlich would call at some time between his seemingly nonstop schedule of whistle stops and work, that call never materialized. Instead, we received this response from an Ehrlich campaign spokesperson: "Number one, with respect to the letter, the congressman is entirely comfortable with his position on the issues and stands by the beliefs he outlined. Number two, his consistent and overwhelming electoral victories in a Democrat district are evidence that folks from all political stripes agree with Bob's political philosophy."

Blake Humphreys, managing director of the pro-gay lobbying group Free State Justice, says his organization will soon publish a candidates' guide to help GLBT Marylanders make educated decisions when they hit the polls in the fall. Humphreys called redistricting a "worrisome" development for the gay community, as several politicians who have been supportive of GLBT issues in the past are now being forced to fight to retain their seats.

"I would urge everyone to study the scorecard and study each candidate's record," he says. "That will tell voters all they need to know."

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