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O’Malley defends marriage bill at Md. House hearing

Dozens testify for and against Civil Marriage Protection Act

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Martin O'Malley, gay news, gay politics dc

Gov. Martin O'Malley testifies before the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee in favor of the Civil Marriage Protection Act. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley remained firm in his support for a bill to legalize same-sex marriage Friday during a contentious joint hearing on the bill before two committees of the state’s House of Delegates.

After O’Malley and two prominent black ministers testified in support of the bill, the three were grilled with questions by two of the bill’s strongest opponents, Del. Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel County) and Del. Neil Parrott (R-Washington County).

The two delegates disputed O’Malley’s claim that the bill would protect the religious rights of those who say same-sex marriage conflicts with their faith and asked the governor to support new language in the bill that would clear it for an immediate voter referendum.

“I think the people have already spoken in a real sense by sending each of you here to make the decision on this issue,” O’Malley said in response to the delegates’ calls for a referendum.

“It is not right or just that the children of gay couples should have lesser protections than the children of other families in our state,” he said in his testimony in support of the bill. “Nor would it be right to force religious institutions to conduct marriages that conflict with their own religious beliefs and teachings.”

He added, “This bill balances equal protection of individual civil marriage rights with the important protection of religious freedom for all.”

O’Malley and the two ministers who sat beside him at the witness table, Rev. Delman Coates, pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., and Rev. Donte Hickman Sr., pastor of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, were the first three of dozens of witnesses expected to testify at the hearing.

The hearing, which was conducted jointly by the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee and Health and Government Operations Committee, began at 1:15 p.m. and lasted until close to 11 p.m.

Some witnesses opposing the bill expressed concern that House Speaker Michael Busch broke tradition by adding the Health and Government Operations panel to join the Judiciary Committee in overseeing the bill after determining that support for the bill in the Judiciary panel was waning and supporters may not have the votes in the committee to send it to the House floor.

Under House rules, the bill would be sent to the full House for a vote if one of the two committees votes to approve it.

Dwyer and Del. Emmett Burns (D-Baltimore County), one of the strongest opponents of same-sex marriage in the legislature, came to the witness table to testify as the first opposing witnesses at the hearing.

While speaking as a witness, Dwyer presented a documentary style video to the committee that alleged that legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts forced school children to undergo “indoctrination” in public schools on homosexuality.

The video included an interview of the father of an elementary school student who said he was arrested and jailed for staging a one-person protest against the school policy.

Same-sex marriage supporters in Massachusetts and Maryland have characterized as untrue claims that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to school curriculum changes. They say curricular changes to address issues of sexual orientation in Massachusetts were under consideration before same-sex marriage became legal in the state and would likely have been adopted even if Massachusetts didn’t legalize same-sex marriage.

Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery County), one of seven out gay members of the Maryland Legislature, disputed Dwyer and Parrott on the school curriculum question during the hearing, saying “not a syllable” could be found in the Civil Marriage Protection Act that would change school curricula.

Burns, in referring to O’Malley’s contention that the marriage bill protects religious freedom, called such a claim irrelevant, saying legal recognition of same-sex marriage would be a disaster for children, families and all people of faith in the state.

“I don’t want your protections,” he said. “I don’t need your protections. I don’t want the bill.”

Similar to a hearing held on the marriage bill on Jan. 31 by the State Senate’s Judicial Proceedings Committee, many of the same witnesses, including ministers and other clergy, testified on Friday and appeared to be evenly divided, with more than a dozen clergy members testifying on both sides of the issue.

“Regarding the rite of marriage, the practice of our local church is rooted in our understanding of the history and etymology of the term matrimony,” said Rev. Coats, who testified in favor of the bill at O’Malley’s side. “Therefore, wedding ceremonies witnessed and presided over at our church acknowledge the union of a man and a woman in a sacred ceremony,” he said.

“With that said, I am here today to express my full support of the proposed Civil Marriage Protection Act as proposed by the governor,” he said. “As a matter of public policy, I believe it is the obligation of the state to insure that all of her citizens are protected equally under the law.”

Hickman said, he too, believes the bill adequately distinguishes civil marriages from religious marriages.

“I believe that marriage is a God-ordained, spiritual and mystical union between a Christian man and a Christian woman,” he said. But he added, “I support the Civil Marriage Protection Act because it is civil and not religious. And as a matter of public policy and human rights it doesn’t threaten my religious convictions nor does it obligate me or my church to officiate or promulgate same-sex marriages.”

O’Malley appeared to respond with caution to Parrott’s repeated questions about whether a same-sex marriage bill in Maryland would lead to the teaching of homosexuality to elementary school students in the state’s public schools.

“In Massachusetts this same bill forced teachers to teach same-sex marriage to their students even when it violated their own religious beliefs,” Parrott told the governor. “Are you OK with that in this bill?”

“No, and I don’t believe that’s what this bill does,” O’Malley said.

“Historically, parents do not have the right to pull their kids out of classes when it violates their religious teachings regarding marriage and family,” Parrott said. “Actually some of them have gone to jail in Massachusetts. Are you OK with that consequence to this bill?”

“No, I’m not aware of that and that is not in this bill,” O’Malley replied. “There are specific, clear prohibitions against forcing any religion to change or teach things that are contrary to its religious beliefs.”

Parrott ended the exchange by asking O’Malley if he would be inclined to amend the bill to “specifically protect students, teachers and parents so that [homosexuality] is not taught in the school system.”

O’Malley replied, “I think that anything that reinforces the inalienable and indispensible right of the free exercise of religions and individual conscience is a good thing.”

The governor’s press spokesperson couldn’t be immediately reached to clarify whether O’Malley was suggesting he might support new language in the bill to ban the teaching of gay-related subjects in the state’s school system.

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee tables anti-transgender student athlete bill

Virginia Beach Republican introduced SB 766

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Thursday tabled a bill that would have banned transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on earlier this month, would have required “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.’”

“SB 766 (trans sports ban) was passed by indefinitely (it died!) after a long line of speakers testified against it, affirming trans students’ rights to participate in sports just like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after the vote. “Trans students belong in sports. Period.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Democrats still control the Senate by a 21-19 margin.

A bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts implement the Virginia Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines died in a Senate subcommittee on Thursday. The Senate General Laws and Technology on Thursday also tabled a religious freedom measure that would have undermined Virginia’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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District of Columbia

ANC supports license for Capitol Hill LGBTQ bar

Lesbian owners back ‘settlement agreement’ with restrictions on hours

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

The Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted unanimously on Tuesday night to support a liquor license for the LGBTQ-owned As You Are Bar, which plans to open in a two-story building at 500 8th St., S.E. in a commercial section of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row.

The ANC’s decision to support the license took place at a virtual meeting attended by nearby residents and supporters of the bar after its owners, lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, agreed to the terms of an ANC settlement agreement that calls for restrictions in the hours the bar can offer dancing, entertainment, and music from a DJ.

The agreement means the ANC will not file a protest against the license before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a development that would have delayed a decision on the license by the ABC Board by as much as seven months. A protest by the ANC could have cost the bar thousands of dollars in legal fees to contest the protest by providing legal arguments seeking the approval of the license.

The ABC Board makes the final decision on whether to approve all liquor licenses in the city.

McDaniel and Pike have said they plan to operate an upstairs dance bar during evening hours and a café on the first floor during the day as well as in the evenings that will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture.”

The two, who are business and life partners, say As You Are Bar will welcome people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities as well as drinkers and non-drinkers as customers.

They have also told the ANC and nearby residents they have taken steps to soundproof the building, which they are renting, to ensure their plans to operate a dance bar with music from a DJ on the second floor will not disturb nearby residents.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, which was posted on the ANC’s website prior to the start of the meeting, the bar’s operating hours will be from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Under D.C. law, bars are allowed to remain open for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. during weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Settlement Agreement further calls for As You Are Bar to restrict the hours of consumption of alcohol from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It calls for allowing live entertainment and dancing (indoors only) from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

However, the agreement says DJ and amplified music will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

 McDaniel told the Blade that at the request of As You Are Bar’s attorney Richard Bianco, the ANC agreed to modify that restriction at the Tuesday night meeting to allow the bar to play “conversational” background music after 8 p.m. until closing time on weekdays.

 Among other things, the agreement requires the bar comply with a noise mitigation provision to “ensure that sound, noise, and vibrations are not audible or felt beyond the curb or any other premises at any time.” It also calls on the bar to provide an “appropriate number of staff” to monitor patrons as they leave the bar through the 8th Street entrance to “prevent loud voices and littering.”

Under rules established by the ABC Board and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA, if a settlement agreement is reached between an applicant for a liquor license and the ANC, a protest against the license by groups of five or more citizens is not allowed. Protests could still be filed by community-based civic groups and residents of an “abutting” house or residential facility.

In the case of As You Are Bar, no citizens group has emerged to oppose the license. There is just one abutting townhouse on E Street whose owner has expressed general support for the settlement agreement, according to McDaniel. But the resident has indicated she will not rule out a possible protest until Feb. 7, which is the deadline for filing a protest under ABRA’s rules.

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