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BREAKING: MD HOUSE PASSES MARRIAGE

Major hurdle overcome; Senate next to vote

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Freedom to Marry, gay news, Washington Blade

UPDATE: According to Del. Mizeur, Del. John Bohanan also intended to vote for the bill but was not recorded by the voting system. The vote count reflecting that information would be 72-67.

Supporters of same-sex marriage cheer following the passage of the Civil Marriage Protection Act in the Maryland House of Delegates. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage tonight by a razor-thin margin of 72-67.

Del. Tiffany Alston’s (D-Prince George’s) vote in favor of the bill proved critical to its passage. Del. Sam Arora (D-Mont. Co.), a former supporter of the bill, voted against it.

“Today, the House of Delegates voted for human dignity,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a statement. “Speaker Busch and his fellow Delegates deserve a lot of credit for their hard work.  At its heart, their vote was a vote for Maryland’s children.”

He continued, “There is still work to be done and marriage equality has not yet been achieved in Maryland.  Wherever we happen to stand on the marriage equality issue, we can agree that all our children deserve the opportunity to live in a loving, caring, committed, and stable home, protected equally under the law.”

“We could not be more grateful to the delegates who today voted to make all Maryland families stronger,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “Today, we took a giant step toward marriage equality becoming law – and we are in this position due to the unwavering leadership and resolve of Governor O’Malley, Speaker Busch and our legislative allies.”

AN IN DEPTH LOOK AT THE VOTE FROM THE WASHINGTON BLADE

EARLIER: At 2:45 the Maryland House of Delegates adjourned after voting down three amendments to the Civil Marriage Protection Act, while adopting two amendments, one by former marriage foe, Del. Tiffany Alston.

Del. Dumais stands in support of Del. Alston's amendment. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Alston amendment, supported by many in the LGBT delegation, including Dels. Clippinger, Mizeur, Cullison, and Washington, as well as the bill sponsor, floor leader Del. Dumais — who spoke passionately in favor of same-sex unions throughout the debate — would make clear that the law would not go into effect until all legal challenges to the law, or any referendum process relating to the law, have been exhausted.

The amendment sparked a heated debate between Republicans and Democrats in regard to the power of the amendment to effect the referendum process and the power of the courts in intervening. Minority leader Anthony O’Donnell sought to move to special order on the bill and the amendment for an opinion on the impact from Attorney General Douglas Gansler, tabling the debate on both until Monday. The motion on the special order was handily defeated 55-79, to the chagrin of many.

Tiffany Alston (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Alston amendment — which could signal a shift in support for that delegate — passed easily 81-52, easing the way for those troubled by the bill to feel more comfortable in voting in its favor.

“It was something that could add a level of comfort for some people,” Del. Washington told the Blade. “This is something that we could negotiate on.”

Though the LGBT lawmakers would not comment on whether or not they think that Alston will now support the law, after her surprise vote against in March of 2011, all indicated a hope that she’s come around.

“We believe that she is raising this in good faith,” Del. Cullison told the Blade in regard to Alston’s possible support after passage of her amendment. “And if that’s what makes her comfortable with the bill, knowing that all of the safeguards for the referendum are in place, then I hope she’ll be more comfortable with voting for the entire bill.”

“We hope it makes her feel more comfortable,” Del. Clippinger added.

On Sam Arora, Del. Clippinger hopes that he’s moved back to the side of supporting same-sex marriage, after his surprise rejection of the law in March of 2011.

“I don’t know where he stands right this second,” Del. Clippinger told the Blade. “I don’t know how he’s going to stand until I see a dot on the board.”

“But at the same time, he’s expressed some misgivings, he passed in committee, he asked questions in regard to Del. Alston’s amendment, we certainly hope that if it will help him fell more comfortable maybe that will move him along,” Clippinger added.

Minority leader, Del. O'Donnell attempted to have Del. Alston's amendment tabled until Monday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Del. Arora voted against the Alston amendment.

In 2010 when Sam Arora was campaigning for the House of Delegates, he was able to pull massive amounts of LGBT support and fundraising money as a result of his close ties with gay Democratic activists and his pro-same-sex marriage position, at that time. Many of his former colleagues indicated a feeling of anger and betrayal after his 2011 flip on the issue. Since that vote, Arora has been ambiguous about his stance on the current effort.

Washington County Republican Del. Andrew Serafini proposed an amendment that would push the age of consent for same-sex marriages to 18, rather than allow the same-sex marriages to adhere to the current age of consent laws that allow girls under the age of 16 to marry with parental consent and proof of pregnancy. Supporters of the same-sex marriage bill argued that it may be time to change the age of consent in Maryland, but that there ought not to be differences between same-sex and opposite sex couples, should the bill pass and get signed into law. The amendment failed 54-81.

Openly gay Del. Washington celebrates Friday's win. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The delegates also passed on an amendment by Washington County Republican Del. Neil C. Parrott that would allow parents to opt out of allowing their children be exposed to curriculum that they find objectionable in terms of its presentation of same-sex marriage.

“That already is the law,” Montgomery Co. Democrat, Del. Anne Kaiser, argued before the House voted down the amendment 48-73.

Prince George’s Co. Democrat, Del. Aisha Braveboy offered the amendment that same-sex marriage advocates railed hardest against. The amendment would have changed the date the law becomes effective from October 2012 to January 2013, which would prevent marriages from occurring before an expected ballot initiative vote takes place. After impassioned discussion, despite strong opposition, the amendment was passed on a 72-67 vote.

Additionally, a short debate preceded a vote on amending the bill to change the word “marriage” to “civil unions” in the law. After supporters of same-sex marriage presented evidence from around the nation where civil unions were found to be inferior to marriage in offering couples equal protection, the delegates rejected the amendment 45-78.

Yesterday we reported that the Maryland House of Delegates on Thursday put off for at least one day a scheduled debate on legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, leading some to speculate that supporters lack the votes to pass the legislation.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Agathos Zoe

    March 24, 2012 at 12:51 pm

    I live in Maryland and I would have preferred a defined legal Civil Union. A lot of details and grey areas are still left in the civil code when you allow same sex marriage… details like prohibitions against a man marrying his mother, sister, aunt, daughter…. etc, had to become generic – a person cannot marry their mother, father, sister, brother, child, grandparent, etc… Why the prohibition at all aside from genetics (and since gays can only adopt, what’s the reason for the prohibition?) We could easily let any two people of the age of consent/age of majority form a legal civil union, but we should have left marriage alone. Many may disagree with me, I’m sure.

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Maryland

Judge rules trans teacher’s lawsuit against P.G. County can go to trial

Gay man files separate case charging discrimination

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Jennifer Eller, gay news, Washington Blade
Jennifer Eller alleges the P.G. County school system subjected her to discrimination and harassment. (Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal)

A federal judge in Maryland issued a ruling on Tuesday, Jan. 18, clearing the way for a lawsuit filed by transgender former English teacher Jennifer Eller in 2018 charging the Prince George’s County, Md., Public Schools with discrimination and harassment based on her gender identity to proceed to a trial.

In the ruling, Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland denied key parts of several motions filed by attorneys representing the P.G. County Public Schools that in effect called for the dismissal of the lawsuit. The motions, among other things, claimed the lawsuit failed to provide sufficient evidence that Eller was subjected to discrimination and harassment, which forced her to resign due to a hostile work environment.

Chuang also ruled against a separate motion introduced by Eller’s attorneys calling for him to issue a summary judgement decision affirming all the lawsuit’s allegations that would have ended the litigation in Eller’s favor without the need to go to trial.

Eller’s lawsuit charges that school officials acted illegally by failing to intervene when she was subjected to a hostile work environment for five years that included abuse and harassment by students, parents, fellow teachers, and supervisors and retaliation by school administrators.

The lawsuit alleges that the school system and its administrators in its actions against Eller violated Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Maryland Fair Employment Practices Act, and the nondiscrimination provision of the Prince George’s County Code.

“We think the judge did as best he could,” said Omar Gonzales-Pagan, an attorney with the LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal, which, along with the D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter, are representing Eller in her lawsuit.

“The takeaway is that the case is now in a posture to proceed to trial,” Gonzales-Pagan told the Washington Blade. “The court found that the alleged facts and the information as discovered throughout the case in the discovery process is sufficient to allow a jury to find whether Jennifer Eller was subjected to a hostile work environment and constructive discharge and retaliation unlawfully by the defendants,” he said.

By the term constructive discharge, Gonzales-Pagan was referring to the lawsuit’s charge that Eller was forced to resign from her teaching job in 2017 after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder due to the alleged abuse she faced on the job.

P.G. County Public Schools officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit on grounds that the school system has a longstanding policy of not discussing pending litigation. However, in its response to the lawsuit in court filings, school system officials have denied Eller’s allegations of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

“For years, I was aggressively misgendered, attacked and harassed in the hallways and even in my own classroom by students, peers and supervisors,” Eller said in a statement released by her attorneys.

“My pleas for help and for sensitivity training on LGBTQ issues for students and staff, were ignored,” Eller said in her statement. “The relentless harassment stripped me of the joy of teaching and forced me to resign,” she said. “It is time for Prince George’s County Public Schools to be held accountable.”

The lawsuit says the harassment and discriminatory action against her began in 2011 when she began presenting as female during the school year. It says school officials initially responded to her complaints about the harassment by demanding that she stop dressing as a woman and return to wearing men’s clothes, which she refused to do.

In a separate action, gay former Spanish teacher Jared Hester filed on his own without an attorney a lawsuit in the Maryland federal court charging the P.G. County Public Schools with failing to take action to prevent him from being subjected to discrimination and harassment similar to some of the allegations made in Eller’s lawsuit.

Hester told the Blade that he was subjected to harassment by students who repeatedly called him “faggot,” but school officials, including the principal of the middle school where he taught, refused to take action to stop the harassment.

He provided the Blade with copies of earlier complaints he filed against school system officials with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, and the P.G County Public Schools’ internal Office of Equity Assurance. Each of the three agencies issued rulings against Hester’s complaints, with two of them saying sufficient evidence could not be found to support his allegations.

The EEOC, in a Nov. 3, 2021 “dismissal” notice, told Hester the EEOC “will not proceed further with its investigation, and makes no determination about whether further investigation would establish violations of the statute.” The notice added, “This does not mean the claims have no merit” or that the respondent, meaning the P.G. County Public Schools, “is in compliance with the statutes.”

The notice did not give a reason for why it chose to end its investigation into Hester’s complaint, but it said his filing with the EEOC cleared the way for him to file a lawsuit to further his case against the school system. 

Hester told the Blade he reached out to Lambda Legal to represent him in his lawsuit, but the LGBTQ litigation group declined to take on his case without giving a reason. Gonzalez-Pagan, the Lambda attorney working on the Eller case, said he was unfamiliar with Hester’s request for representation. Another Lambda official couldn’t immediately be reached to determine the reason for its decision not to represent Hester.

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FreeState Justice outlines 2022 legislative priorities

Bills introduced to repeal ‘unnatural or perverted sexual practice’ law

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conversion therapy, gay news, Washington Blade

FreeState Justice has outlined its legislative priorities for the Maryland General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session that began on Jan. 12.

State Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore and Harford Counties) has introduced Senate Bill 22, which would repeal a provision of Maryland law that bans “unnatural or perverted sexual practice.” State Dels. David Moon (D-Montgomery County), Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery County) and Julie Palakovich Carr (D-Montgomery County) have introduced an identical bill in the House of Delegates.

A bill that repealed Maryland’s sodomy law took effect in 2020 without Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature, but the “unnatural or perverted sexual practice” provision that criminalizes oral sex and bestiality remains in place.

FreeState Justice Policy Director C.P. Hoffman on Jan. 12 noted during a virtual briefing that prosecutors rarely bring charges under the law. Hoffman nevertheless pointed out four men who were arrested at a video store in Harford County in May 2021 were indicted under it.

“Its really just offensive that this is being used against queer people in 2021,” said Hoffman. “So we want to see it repealed.”

Hoffman and their FreeState Justice colleagues also noted the ability for transgender Marylanders to more easily obtain official documents that correspond with their gender identity is another legislative priority.

Maryland since 2019 has allowed trans and non-binary people to receive a driver’s license with an “X” gender marker.

Hoffman said FreeState Justice will support bills that would allow Marylanders to change their name on their marriage certificate without a court order or getting divorced and remarry. FreeState Justice will also back a measure that would allow trans parents to amend their child’s birth certificate to accurately reflect their gender identity.

“We’re trying to clean that up to make one consistent policy that allows for trans folks to do this,” said Hoffman.

FreeState Justice Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster during the briefing noted another legislative priority is the Inclusive Schools Act, which would require Maryland public schools to implement a uniform non-discrimination policy through the state’s Department of Education. FreeState Justice Policy Coordinator Jamie Grace Alexander highlighted the organization will also urge lawmakers to expand access to PrEP and PEP in Maryland and to support legislation that would, among other things, prohibit housing incarcerated trans women with men.

“The conditions for transgender people — especially transgender women — while they’re incarcerated are extremely grim and dark,” said Alexander.

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Virginia

Mother says teen boy charged with assault in girl’s bathroom at Va. school is straight

Earlier reports that Loudoun County student was gender fluid triggered backlash

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Two sexual assaults by the same teen in Loudoun County schools attracted widespread media attention. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

In a little-noticed interview last November with the British online newspaper, DailyMail.com, the mother of a 15-year-old boy charged with sexually assaulting a girl last May in the girl’s bathroom at a Loudoun County, Va., high school that the two students attended said her son identifies as heterosexual.

The May 28, 2021, sexual assault first surfaced in the news media in October at the same time law enforcement authorities disclosed that the boy allegedly sexually assaulted a girl on Oct. 6 in a vacant classroom at another high school to which he was transferred.

The disclosure of the two assaults triggered a furious backlash by some parents and conservative political activists against a Virginia school policy allowing transgender and gender fluid students to use the bathroom that conforms to their gender identity.

“First of all, he is not transgender,” the boy’s mother told DailyMail.com in a Nov. 2 interview. “And I think this is all doing an extreme disservice to those students who actually identify as transgender,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.

The mother, who agreed to the interview on grounds that she was not identified to protect the identity of her son, said her son identifies as heterosexual and absolutely does not identify as female.

LGBTQ activists have said the backlash against both the Virginia state and Loudoun County transgender non-discrimination policies — which spread to school districts across the country that have similar policies — was fueled by what they have said all along was unsubstantiated claims that the boy was transgender or gender fluid.

Conservative activists who strongly oppose the school systems’ trans supportive bathroom policies have said it was those policies that enabled the 15-year-old boy, who police say was wearing a skirt at the time of the May 28 sexual assault incident, to enter the girl’s bathroom to target the girl.

Since that time, testimony in a Loudoun County Juvenile Court where the boy was being prosecuted revealed that the 14-year-old girl who brought the charges against him said she and the boy had two consenting sexual encounters in a girl’s bathroom at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va., prior to the incident in which the boy allegedly assaulted her. 

According to the Washington Post, whose reporter attended one of the juvenile court hearings, the girl testified that she agreed to meet the boy in the girl’s bathroom after he requested a third sexual encounter there, but she told him she did not want to have sex at that time.

“The girl previously testified in court that the defendant threw her to the ground in the bathroom and forced her to perform two sexual acts on him after she told him that she was not interested in sex on that occasion,” the Post reported in a story last week about the final outcome of the case.

At a Jan. 12 sentencing hearing, Loudoun County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Pamela Brooks placed the boy on the Virginia sex offender registry for life, the Post reported. After ruling in an earlier hearing in November that the evidence confirmed that the boy was responsible for sexually assaulting the two girls, Brooks sentenced the boy to a residential treatment facility rather than a juvenile detention facility and required that he remain on probation until he turns 18, the Post reported.

“He’s a 15-year-old boy that wanted to have sex in the bathroom, with somebody that was willing,” the boy’s mother told DailyMaiI.com. “And they’re twisting this just enough to make it a political hot button issue,” she said.

In her interview with the newspaper, the mother said her son wasn’t gender fluid despite the reports, which she confirms, that he wore a skirt at the time of the first of the two sexual assaults.

“He would wear a skirt one day and then the next day, he would wear jeans and a T-shirt, a Polo or hoodie,” she told the newspaper. “He was trying to find himself and that involved all kinds of styles. I believe he was doing it because it gave him attention he desperately needed and sought,” she said.

The mother acknowledged in the interview that her son was deeply troubled, saying he had a long history of misbehavior, including sending nude photos of himself to a girl when he was in the fifth grade.

On Jan. 12, the same day as the boy’s sentencing hearing, Virginia House of Delegates member John Avoli (R-Stanton) introduced a bill calling for restricting the ability of transgender students from using bathrooms and other facilities in public schools that are consistent with their gender identity.

A separate bill introduced last month by Virginia State Sen. Travis Hackworth (R-Tazewell County) calls for eliminating the requirement that Virginia school districts adopt the state Department of Education’s nondiscrimination policies for trans and non-binary students.

Although Virginia’s newly inaugurated Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the GOP-controlled House of Delegates could move to advance the two bills, LGBTQ activists note that the state Senate remains in Democratic control and would block the two bills from being approved by the General Assembly.

Cris Candice Tuck, president of the LGBTQ group Equality Loudoun, told the Blade she expects opponents of LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies in the Loudoun County Public Schools and other school systems in Virginia to continue to use the sexual assault case of the Loudoun boy as a pretext to repeal LGBTQ and trans supportive policies. 

“We firmly believe it should have absolutely no bearing as the perpetrator was not transgender, non-binary, or gender fluid, and so that doesn’t apply to this policy at all,” Tuck said. “A single conviction of an individual who is not even part of the group in question is no reason to invalidate the rights and expose to potential violence the hundreds of students who identify as transgender or non-binary,” Tuck said in an email message.

“Currently, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, and hundreds of cisgender teachers, clergy, and coaches are embroiled in legal battles nationwide involving sexual molestation, rape, and abuse of children across the country that has been ongoing for decades,” Tuck said. “Yet no one is proposing restroom restrictions for any of those groups. A double standard cannot exist for the LGBTQ+ based on fear mongering, misinformation, and discrimination.”

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