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Md. marriage bill dead for year

Equality group remains optimistic; leaders call move a ‘strategic step’

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Delegate Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland died in the Maryland House of Delegates Friday after supporters determined they did not have the votes to pass it and sent it back to committee without taking a vote.

The decision to return the bill to the House Judiciary Committee, which approved it two weeks ago by a one-vote margin, came after an impassioned two-and-a-half hour debate in which six of the House’s seven openly gay members urged their colleagues to support marriage equality.

“It is best to delay this historic vote until we are absolutely sure we have the votes to win,” Equality Maryland, a statewide LGBT group, said in a statement. “While we are disappointed the House did not vote to pass marriage equality today, we are confident we will win in the future.”

House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) said in a news conference after the debate that the bill would be brought back in 2012.

Many LGBT activists watching from the visitor’s gallery did not know of plans to pull the bill if the 71 votes needed to pass it in the 141-member House could not be obtained. Some reacted with shrieks and gasps when the House approved by voice vote a motion to “recommit” the bill to committee, with nearly all of the bill’s supporters voting “aye.”

When asked how close the vote would have been, Busch told reporters that backers of the bill believed a vote would have been “very close” but decided the best course of action would be to give wavering delegates more time to mull over the issue.

“There was a chance we could have had 71,” he said. “There was an opportunity to have 70 or 69…But I think they didn’t feel comfortable that there was the full 71 vote.”

Busch was also asked why a close vote that might have resulted in the bill’s defeat this year was ruled out if everyone agreed to bring the legislation back for a vote next year.

“In my personal opinion, I think those who felt uncomfortable might have voted no and had a tough time coming back and voting yes,” he said.

According to Busch and others familiar with the House of Delegates, no more than about 10 delegates would likely be swayed to change their vote one way or the other. If a vote were held Friday and some voted no, they might be reluctant to vote for the bill next year out of fear of being accusing of being a “flip-flopper,” some of the bill’s supporters said.

Equality Maryland board member Daryl Carrington agreed with Busch’s rationale for avoiding a vote.

“We did not want to have a negative vote on the record,” said Carrington. “And we believe that it gives us the time we need. It was a strategic step to give us the additional time we need to get this done.”

Supporters lined up enough votes to defeat two amendments considered hostile to the bill, raising the possibility that backers of the bill might have enough support to pass the measure.

One of the amendments, introduced by Del. John Olszewski (D-Baltimore County), called for expanding a provision in the bill that allows religious institutions to refuse to provide goods and services and accommodations related to the “promotion of marriage” if doing so violates the institution’s religious beliefs.

The bill limits the exemptions to “religious programs, counseling, educational courses, summer camps, and retreats.” Oloszewski’s amendment would have expanded the exemption to include any program or activity operated by a religious institution, even if such products or services were offered to the general public.

The amendment was defeated by voice vote.

The second amendment, offered by Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City), called for eliminating the bill’s marriage provisions entirely and turning it into a civil unions bill.  Her amendment also went down to defeat by a voice vote. When she asked for a roll call vote to verify the vote breakdown, Busch used his authority as speaker to refuse the roll call vote request.

Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County), an opponent of the bill, argued during the debate that the bill’s supporters were incorrectly comparing their quest for marriage equality and other LGBT rights initiatives with the black civil rights movement.

He said same-sex marriage had nothing to do with civil rights, adding that it would “validate and uphold the homosexual lifestyle,” which is contrary to his religious beliefs.

“I am a black man. I cannot change my color,” he said. “Those who are gay can disguise their propensity. They can disguise who they are.”

Del. Keiffer Mitchell (D-Baltimore City), a supporter of the marriage bill, took exception to Burns’ interpretation of the civil rights movement. Noting that he is the grandson of nationally acclaimed African-American civil rights activist Clarence Mitchell, Keiffer Mitchell said he was honored that the LGBT community and other minorities have modeled their own struggles for equality on the black civil rights movement.

Although the LGBT civil rights struggle is not the same as the black civil rights struggle, it is still falls under the category of civil rights.

“When we deny people equality under the law it is a civil rights issue,” he said.

Lesbian Delegates Heather Mizeur, Anne Kaiser, and Bonnie Cullison, each a Democrat from Montgomery County; lesbian Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City); and gay Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) each gave impassioned floor speeches about how legalizing same-sex marriage would impact them.

While not mentioning fellow delegates opposing the bill by name, each said they were troubled and, in some cases, hurt and offended by opponents’ claims that allowing them to marry would harm children, take away religious rights, and damage the institution of marriage.

Mizeur told of her own struggle as a devout Catholic with her sexual orientation as a teenager and young adult. She said she has long since reconciled her identity as a lesbian and devoted Christian, saying she believes deeply that God accepts her for who she is.

Noting she and her partner have been married for five years, Mizeur said, “What we’re asking for is equal protection under the law…You can still choose to believe we are immoral.”

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Virginia

Woman in standoff with Fairfax police charged with kidnapping ex-girlfriend

Incident began in Laurel, Md. led to shutdown of Richmond Highway

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Brittany A. Copelin is charged with kidnapping her ex-girlfriend before getting into a 30+ hour standoff with police. 

A 29-year-old woman armed with a gun in her car who was engaged in a standoff with police on Richmond Highway in the Hybla Valley section of Fairfax, Va., for at least 34 hours before surrendering to police has been charged with kidnapping her ex-girlfriend.

According to statements released by Fairfax County and Laurel, Md., police, Brittany A. Copelin, a resident of Charles County, Md., allegedly kidnapped her former girlfriend, Lauren Kingsbury, 25, outside Kingsbury’s home in Laurel on March 24 and reportedly drove her to a destination in Fairfax before Kingsbury was able to escape from her ex-girlfriend.

The Fairfax police statement, released on March 30, says Fairfax police received a tip that Copelin, who was reported missing by the Charles County, Md., Sheriff’s Office, might be located around the 7200 block of Fordson Road in Alexandria. When officers arrived at that location they were approached by Kingsbury, who told them she had been abducted by Copelin.

After searching the area, the officers found the 2016 Jeep SUV that Copelin had been driving in a parking lot along the 7300 block of Richmond Highway, the statement says. It says the officers attempted to stop the jeep, but it drove away, prompting the officers to engage in a “short pursuit” until the Jeep stopped again on a service road on Richmond Highway near Arlington Boulevard.

 “Copelin displayed a firearm to officers and refused to exit the Jeep,” the statement says. “To ensure the safety of our community, our officers and Copelin, Richmond Highway was closed between Lockheed Blvd. and Boswell Ave.,” the statement continues. “Officers from our Special Operations Division and Crisis Negotiations Team responded to work to peacefully resolve the situation.”

After more than 30 hours of negotiations with Copeland and with support from Alexandria police, Virginia State Police and George Mason University Police, Copelin surrendered and was taken into custody Thursday morning, March 30, according to the statement.  

“She was then taken to the Adult Detention Center where she was charged with two counts of abduction, two counts of use of a firearm in commission of a felony, and felony in possession of a firearm,” the statement says. It says she was being held without bond.

Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis said crisis negotiators and clinicians were in contact with Copelin during the standoff, and that Copelin was experiencing a mental health crisis, NBC 4 Washington reported.

Laurel, Md., police issued their own statement saying they became involved in the case when Lauren Kingsbury’s mother reported her daughter missing on March 26. The statement says the mother reported her daughter was last seen through surveillance camera video “leaving her residence on Friday, March 24, 2023, in the company of Ms. Copelin.”

The statement adds, “Detectives from our Criminal Investigations Division are still in the investigative stages of establishing what happened in the days leading up to the kidnapping and during the time Ms. Kingsbury was missing.”

The statement says Laurel police have charged Copelin with Kidnapping, Home Invasion, First Degree Assault, Second Degree Assault, Third Degree Burglary, Firearm Use in the Commission of a Felony, Loaded Handgun on Person, and False imprisonment.

“The Laurel Police Department commends the Fairfax County Police Department for their commitment and perseverance in finding a peaceful resolution in bringing Ms. Copelin into custody,” the statement concludes. “We are grateful that Ms. Kingsbury has been returned to her family. We would also like to thank Ms. Kingsbury’s family for their continued cooperation and determination in bringing their loved one home,” it says.

Neither Copelin’s attorney nor Lauren Kingsbury could immediately be reached for comment.

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Maryland

Gay former College Park mayor indicted on 80 counts of child porn

Grand jury adds 24 additional counts of felony ‘intent to distribute’ allegations

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Gay former College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn faces 80 counts related to child pornography.

A Prince George’s County, Md., grand jury on March 28 issued an indictment charging gay former College Park mayor Patrick Wojahn with 80 counts of possession and intent to distribute child pornography.

The indictment comes just under four weeks after Prince George’s County police announced on March 2 that they had arrested Wojahn, 47, on 56 counts of possession and distribution of “child exploitive material.”

The former mayor and longtime LGBTQ rights advocate has been held in jail since the time of his arrest after a judge on March 6 denied his request for bail.

Police charging documents said Wojahn allegedly had uploaded and/or shared at least 56 videos or still images on the social media app Kik depicting explicit sexual acts between adult men and prepubescent boys, depicting prepubescent boys engaging in sex with each other or engaging in masturbation.

The initial charges filed against Wojahn by police and prosecutors with the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office included 40 misdemeanor counts of possession of child pornography and 16 felony counts of intent to distribute child porn, comprising a total of 56 counts.

But this week, Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy, the lead prosecutor in the case, issued a statement saying the grand jury on March 28 handed down 24 new counts of intent to distribute child porn.

The grand jury’s action, which usually comes at the request of prosecutors, brought the total number of counts against Wojahn to 80 – 40 for misdemeanor possession allegations and 40 for felony intent to distribute allegations.

“This is an unprecedented case in our county in which a former elected official has been accused of a crime of this nature,” Braveboy said in her statement. “The charges contained in the indictment are serious, and we will continue to work with law enforcement to investigate and follow any new leads that may be uncovered,” she said.

“It is important to note that the defendant is presumed innocent, and my office will continue to focus on achieving justice for the victims in this case,” Braveboy said.

At the time of his arrest, Wojahn issued his own statement announcing he had resigned from his position as mayor and was cooperating with authorities in their investigation into the charges against him. “I have cooperated fully, and will continue to cooperate fully,” he wrote.

Wojahn added, “I am stepping away to deal with my own mental health. I ask that you continue to keep me and my family in your prayers.”

In a charging document filed in court, P.G. County police said at the time of his arrest that Wojahn waived his Miranda rights to remain silent and provided police with a statement acknowledging having downloaded files containing child pornography.

Court records show Wojahn is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing following the indictment on April 21 in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro.

“The indictment was an expected next step in the case, which will now proceed in Circuit Court,” Wojahn’s attorney, David Moyse, told the Washington Blade in a brief statement. “Mr. Wojahn continues to cooperate with authorities and focus on his own mental health during this process,” Moyse said.

Wojahn’s arrest came as a shock to his colleagues on the College Park City Council, on which he served for eight years before winning election as mayor in 2016. The arrest also stunned LGBTQ rights advocates in D.C. and across the country, who had praised Wojahn’s advocacy work both locally and nationally for LGBTQ equality.

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Maryland

D.C. man charged in murder of trans teen outside Maryland bar

Victim’s family, police disagree over whether incident was hate crime

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Darryl Carlton Parks Jr. was arrested in the case of a trans woman who was shot to death in Maryland. (Photo courtesy St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office)

The St. Mary’s County, Md., Sheriff’s Office announced on Wednesday that it has charged a 29-year-old D.C. man with the March 24 shooting death of an 18-year-old transgender woman outside a bar in Mechanicsville, Md.

In an earlier announcement last week, the St. Mary’s Sheriff’s Office said Tasiyah Woodland of Lexington Park, Md., was found shot to death shortly after 1 a.m. in a parking lot outside the Big Dogs in Paradise bar and grill after “some type of confrontation” occurred.

The earlier announcement said investigators did not believe Woodland had been targeted for the murder because of her gender identity, although Woodland’s family members disputed that claim, saying they believed the murder was a hate crime.

In its announcement on Wednesday, March 29, the Sheriff’s Office said its Criminal Investigations Division on March 24 – the day of the murder – identified District resident Darryl Carlton Parks Jr. as a suspect in the case. Later that same day investigators obtained an arrest warrant for Parks, the announcement says.

On Tuesday, March 28, according to the latest announcement, the Sheriff’s investigators along with the assistance of the D.C. police Homicide Unit, located and apprehended Parks on the arrest warrant. He is being held in D.C. while he awaits extradition to St. Mary’s County, the announcement says.

It says Parks has been charged with First-Degree Murder, Second-Degree Murder, Firearm Use/Felony-Violent Crime, two counts of Reckless Endangerment from Car, and Illegal Possession of a Regulated Firearm.

The latest announcement does not disclose whether Sheriff’s Office investigators have determined a motive for the 18-year-old trans woman’s murder.

Woodland’s sister, Ty’aliyah Woodland, told News 4 Washington that she and members of her family believe the killing was a hate crime based, in part, on the fact that Woodland had been subjected to “hate” in the recent past because of her gender identity. Ty’aliyah Woodland told News 4 Washington that her sister was an outspoken person who sometimes got others upset.

“She was one of a kind. She had no filter. She told you what it was and what it wasn’t, and nobody like that,” Ty’aliyah Woodland told the TV news station. “I mean, she was the true definition of living life to the fullest.”

Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Jason Babcock told the Washington Blade on Wednesday that there were multiple witnesses who informed investigators that Tasiyah Woodland had been inside the Big Dogs in Paradise bar and reported a confrontation took place after Woodland left the bar and entered the parking lot.

“When she came back out there was some kind of confrontation between the suspect and the victim that led to the shooting,” Babcock said. “But they were not in a relationship, and the investigation has determined that the victim’s gender identity was not a factor in the shooting,” he said.

Babcock added that investigators determined the shooting took place while suspect Park was inside his own car, leading to one of the charges being Reckless Endangerment from Car.

“The Sheriff’s Office thanks the community for its assistance in this investigation and urges anyone with additional information to contact Deputy David Lawrence at 301-475-4200, ext. 78130,” the latest statement released by the office says.

In its earlier statement prior to the announcement this week of an arrest in the case, the Sheriff’s Office said its investigators had reached out to the victim’s family and to the LGBTQ community while its investigation was still under way.

It said the investigators had been “in regular contact” with members of Woodland’s family to offer support and updates on the investigation.

“The Sheriff’s Office has also been in contact with members of PFLAG Southern Maryland and the LGBTQ+ community to address concerns of personal and public safety,” the earlier statement said. “At this time, it does not appear that Woodland was targeted because of her gender identity,” it said.

PFLAG, or Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, is a national organization with chapters in states and cities across the country.

Under Maryland law, people under the legal drinking age of 21 are allowed to patronize bars and other places that serve alcohol if they do not consume an alcoholic beverage. The Sheriff’s Office has said it was investigating whether Woodland was served alcohol, News 4 Washington reports.

Big Dogs Paradise Bar (Screen Capture via NBC4 Washington)
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