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Bill to repeal Maryland sodomy law dies in committee

‘Perverted Sexual Practice’ measure remains on books for at least one more year

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Jeremy LaMaster, executive director of FreeState Justice, said the group lobbied for the sodomy repeal bill this year. (Photo courtesy Free State Justice)

A bill calling for repeal of a Maryland law that classifies oral sex between consenting adults as a crime and that was used to arrest four gay men in an adult video store in May 2021 was approved earlier this year by the state’s House of Delegates but died in a committee of the state Senate.

In a development that disappointed LGBTQ activists and the bill’s sponsors, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee failed to act on the bill before the Maryland General Assembly adjourned for the year on April 11.

Sen. William ‘Will’ Smith (D-Montgomery County), who chairs the Democratic controlled committee, said the committee was faced with a large number of bills in a legislative session that lasts only 90 days, and it wasn’t able to get to Senate Bill 22, which called for repealing the state’s Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practices Act.

“It’s a top priority for me,” Smith told the Washington Blade. “We will get to it next year. It’s just that we ran out of time,” he said. “It wasn’t a lack of willingness. So, I’m working with Sen. Lam to make sure it’s at the top of the agenda next year.”

Smith was referring to State Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore & Howard County), who introduced the bill in the Senate in January.

Smith said among the other bills that his committee worked on and approved, and that passed both houses of the General Assembly, was the Inclusive Schools Act, which prohibits state funded schools, including private religious schools receiving state funding, from discriminating against students based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, nationality, or disability.

Lam told the Blade he is disappointed his bill seeking to repeal the state’s remaining sodomy law did not make it out of the Senate committee. He said he’s hopeful the bill will pass in the General Assembly’s 2023 legislative session.

“My understanding is that it’s not because of policy concerns from the committee leadership,” Lam said in referring to the reason the Senate committee didn’t act on the bill. “I think the fact was they ran out of time to address this issue, which is frustrating because I think this is an important issue,” he said. “And I understand, and I recognize that they have a lot of important issues they’re working with, much of which was very substantive and weighty.”

The Judicial Proceedings Committee’s inability to act on the bill came after the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee approved the measure and sent it to the full House of Delegates, which passed it by a vote of 121 to 10, with one member not voting and nine members absent, according to the bill tracking site LegiScan.

The committee’s failure to act on the bill this year also came two years after it approved a separate bill in 2020 calling for repealing the section of Maryland’s two-part sodomy law that outlawed anal sex. As first introduced, the 2020 bill called for repealing both provisions of the archaic law – the so-called “Sodomy” provision banning anal sex and the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice provision banning oral sex.

But at the request of two Republican members of the committee, Sens. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll County) and Bob Cassilly (R-Harford County), the committee’s Democratic members and the other two GOP members agreed to drop from the bill the section calling for repeal of the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice provision. The committee consists of seven Democrats and four Republicans.

The full General Assembly then passed the amended bill that repealed only the “sodomy” section of the law during the General Assembly’s 2020 session. The House of Delegates, which initially passed the full two-part bill, agreed to the Senate’s changes. House of Delegates member David Moon (D-Montgomery County), who introduced the 2020 bill in the House, said he and his House colleagues reluctantly agreed to the Senate version because the only alternative was to have no bill at all.

Moon introduced this year’s version of the repeal bill in the House and helped guide it to passage by the full House before the bill died in the Senate committee.

The section of the law that this year’s bill would have repealed and that now remains on the books, states, “A person may not take the sexual organ of another or of an animal in the person’s mouth; place the person’s sexual organ in the mouth of another or of an animal; or commit another unnatural or perverted sexual practice with another or with an animal.”

Supporters of the repeal bill point out that other existing Maryland laws outlaw abusive treatment of animals as well as non-consensual sexual acts or sexual acts between adults and minors. The supporters, including the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, said repealing the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice statute would not prevent the full prosecution of anyone engaging in abuse of animals, rape, or sex with minors.

Many LGBTQ activists were unaware that the repeal bill that passed in 2020 did not include the part of the statute outlawing oral sex. Many did not realize that change had been made to the 2020 repeal bill until the Harford County, Md., Sheriff’s Department conducted a May 20, 2021, raid on the adult Bush River Books & Video store in the town of Abingdon, which is located 25 miles north of Baltimore.

The Sheriff’s Department said one of its deputies, who entered the store undercover in plainclothes, observed what officials said was illegal activity by nine men, who were arrested during the raid. Most were charged with indecent exposure. Four were arrested on the charge of Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice.

One of the arrested men told the Blade he and most of the others arrested were caught engaging in sex inside locked video booths that the Sheriff’s deputies opened with keys they obtained from a store employee.

Court records show that the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice charges appear to have been dropped against the four men who were faced with that charge. In response to a request from the Blade, Harford County Deputy State’s Attorney Gavin Patashnick, one of the prosecutors in the case, confirmed that “all perverted practice charges were dropped with no preconditions.”

But the attorneys — and an official with the national LGBTQ litigation group Lambda Legal — said the fact that law enforcement officials would seek to invoke the Unnatural or Perverted Sexual Practice statute was an unfair practice that subjected their clients to an unnecessary burden of an arrest.

Jeremy LaMaster, executive director of the Maryland LGBTQ advocacy group FreeState Justice, said the group engaged in lobbying efforts in support of this year’s repeal bill. He said in the final week of the General Assembly’s legislative session the group urged Smith and the Judicial Proceedings Committee’s vice chair, Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery County), to bring the bill up for a committee vote.

“We were advised a few times during the week by both Sens. Waldstreicher and Smith that it would be added to the committee voting list,” LaMaster said in a statement. “We monitored it daily and never saw it appear on a voting list.”

Gay Democratic activist Jeffrey Slavin, who serves as mayor of the Maryland town of Somerset near D.C., said he, too, was disappointed that the repeal bill failed to pass this year. 

“There’s really no excuse,” he said. “It’s a no brainer. And there are people who are being harassed needlessly because that law is still on the books. It’s from the last century. It’s ridiculous,” Slavin said, adding, “It’s a shame that this issue isn’t being raised on the campaign trail.”

Montgomery County LGBTQ activist Michael Tardif said he was skeptical about “excuses” of a heavy workload of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and a reported lack of sufficient time to get to the repeal bill.

“This is non-controversial legislation to repeal a heinous, outdated law that is still being used to ensnare LGBTQ people for private, consensual conduct,” he said. “The House Judiciary Committee has the same workload as the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and managed to pass the House bill by Feb. 17,” Tardif told the Blade. “’Not enough time’ does not adequately explain why Senate Bill 22 did not even receive a vote in Judicial Proceedings,” he said, referring to the bill number for the repeal measure in question.

Smith told the Blade that because the state Senate has fewer members than the House of Delegates, the Senate committees have fewer members than the House to work on important legislation.

“The Maryland State Senate has four committees,” he said. “The House of Delegates has six. That means each committee in the Senate has 25 percent more jurisdiction over subject matters than each House committee.” He said each House committee has 21 members while each Senate committee has 11 members.

 “And although we work feverishly there is no way we can keep up with the pace of the House because that’s by design” of the legislature, he said. “And every subject we go with is extremely serious, and so is this one,” said Smith, referring to the sodomy repeal bill that didn’t make it through his committee this year.

“And as I’ve told you and others, we will get to this bill next year, come hell or high water,” he said.

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Maryland

Md. lawmakers pass several LGBTQ rights bills during 2024 session

Senate committee failed to vote on HIV decriminalization bill

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Maryland lawmakers passed a number of LGBTQ rights bills during this year’s legislative session that ended on Monday.

House Bill 1397, which would strengthened the state’s nondiscrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity, passed on Monday. 

The Freedom to Read Act, which, among other things, would “protect local library personnel from dismissal or disciplinary action for doing their jobs, in accordance with prescribed standards,” passed in the Maryland Senate on April 5. 

The state Senate on April 4 passed House Bill 602, which would bolster Maryland’s employment discrimination law. The Maryland House of Delegates on the same day approved a measure that would make Maryland a sanctuary state for transgender people and their health care providers.

FreeState Justice Policy Advocate and Legal Impact Coordinator Camila Reynolds-Dominguez in a statement notes lawmakers also “affirmed Maryland’s commitment to the federal Equal Rights Amendment” and “created much needed oversight for Maryland’s prison system.” 

She noted lawmakers “defeated a myriad of anti-trans bills and harmful amendments” during this year’s legislative session. Reynolds-Dominguez also criticized the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee over its failure to vote on a bill that would repeal the criminalization of people with HIV.

“This legislative session was monumental for LGBTQIA+ Marylanders,” she said. “While we are extremely disappointed that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee did not bring an HIV criminalization repeal law to a vote for the second year in a row, there is much else to celebrate.”

“It is too apparent from the harmful comments and misinformation we heard during legislative debates that there is still so much work that must be done to change certain legislators’ anti-LGBTQIA+ biases,” added Reynolds-Dominguez. “Nonetheless, we’re also celebrating the overwhelming majority of our elected officials who are wonderful and supportive allies in the fight to make Maryland an inclusive state where everyone has dignity and equal rights no matter who they are or who they love. We would like to thank all the advocates, allies and activists who helped us achieve so many victories this session — none of this would be possible without dozens of people’s hard work, tireless effort and unwavering dedication.”

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Maryland

Md. poised to become trans sanctuary state

Trans Shield Act received final approval this week

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The Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A bill that would make Maryland a sanctuary state for transgender people and their health care providers received final approval this week.

The Maryland House of Delegates on April 4 passed a version of Senate Bill 19, the Trans Shield Act, that state Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery County) introduced. The Maryland Senate earlier this year passed SB 19 that state Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Anne Arundel and Howard Counties), Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) and Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery County) introduced.

The Washington Blade previously reported Maryland would become the 12th state to implement such a law if Democratic Gov. Wes Moore signs it. D.C. has enacted a similar statute.

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Maryland

Maryland’s Joe Vogel would make history if elected to Congress

27-year-old gay lawmaker running for David Trone seat

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Maryland state Del. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery County) (Photo courtesy of Joe Vogel)

Maryland state Del. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery County) on Monday said it is time for a new generation of leaders in Congress.

The Montgomery County Democrat last May declared his candidacy for Maryland’s 6th Congressional District after Congressman David Trone announced his run for retiring U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)’s seat. Vogel, 27, would be the first Latino, the first gay man and the first Gen Zer elected to Congress from Maryland if he were to win in November.

“We need a new generation of leadership with new perspectives, new ideas and the courage to actually deliver for our communities if we want things to get better in this country,” Vogel told the Washington Blade during an interview at the Line Hotel in Adams Morgan.

Protecting democracy among priorities

Vogel was born in Uruguay and immigrated to Rockville with his family when he was three years old.

He volunteered for former President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Vogel, who is Jewish, in 2014 worked for Maryland state Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery County)’s campaign.

He was part of Hillary Clinton’s National Advance Team during her 2016 presidential campaign, and worked on former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 2017 gubernatorial bid. Vogel later joined the March for Our Lives movement for gun control that began after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018.

Vogel in 2020 worked for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)’s presidential campaign. The Montgomery County Democrat in 2022 became the first Gen Zer to win a seat in the Maryland General Assembly. 

Vogel pointed out to the Blade that he has introduced 18 bills in this year’s legislative session. 

One of them, a bill that would prohibit the state from giving foster children in their custody trash bags for them to transport their belongings, passed unanimously in the House on March 14. Other measures that Vogel has sponsored would, among other things, provide security grants to abortion clinics and increase investments in local newspapers.

“I have a record of being able to deliver results,” he said. “That’s what I’m running on.”

Vogel pointed out to the Blade that his platform includes:

  • • Protecting democracy
  • • Preventing “attacks on fundamental rights”
  • • Fighting climate change
  • • Stopping gun violence

Vogel also noted his support for the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights laws.

“At a moment of time when you have attacks against the LGBTQ+ community, against our rights, against our identities, I believe that there’s nothing more powerful than electing Maryland’s first openly LGBTQ+ member of Congress,” he said.

Vogel added his election would send “a message to all the young LGBTQ+ people across the state that they belong, and that they have someone in the United States Congress who understands them and is going to fight for them every single day,” added Vogel.

Vogel’s great-grandparents fled Europe ahead of the Holocaust. Uruguay’s military dictatorship was in place from 1973-1985. 

His multiple identities remain a cornerstone of his legislative priorities and of his campaign.

“When we talk about the attacks on LGBTQ+ people, I get that. I feel that,” said Vogel. “I understand that when we talk about the attacks on immigrant communities … not only do I understand that, personally, but I’m around so many immigrants that feel that pain of what we’ve seen over the last many years of the incessant attacks on immigrants and Latino people. When we see the rise in anti-Semitism, I feel that personally.”

HRC, Victory Fund have endorsed Vogel

The Democratic primary will take place on May 14.

April McClain Delaney, a former U.S. Department of Commerce official whose husband is former Congressman John Delaney, and state Del. Lesley Lopez (D-Montgomery County) are among Vogel’s primary opponents. Former state Del. Dan Cox, an anti-LGBTQ Republican who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2022, is also running for Trone’s seat.

Campaign finance reports indicate Vogel raised $379,755.91 between May 4, 2023, and Dec. 31, 2023. McClain Delaney reported she received $536,557 in campaign contributions from Oct. 1, 2023, to Dec. 31, 2023.

The Human Rights Campaign, the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, Equality PAC and the Sierra Club are among the organizations that have endorsed Vogel’s campaign. U.S. Reps. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), Becca Balint (D-Vt.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and Frederick County Council President Brad Young are among those who have also backed him. The Maryland State Education Association and the National Education Association this week endorsed Vogel.

Vogel dismissed suggestions that he does not have enough legislative experience to run for Congress and that he is too young.

“When you’re elected to Congress, you’re elected for a two-year term,” he said. “Look at what I’ve been able to accomplish in a two-year term. I’ve proven that I can hit the ground running, get results, deliver results.”

Vogel added the race to succeed Trone in Congress is “me versus the status quo.”

“We need a new generation of leadership with new perspectives, new ideas and the courage to actually deliver for our communities if we actually want things to get better in this country,” said Vogel.

Democratic opponent gave money to Jim DeMint

Former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan last month announced he is running for U.S. Senate. Prince George’s County Executive Director Angela Alsobrooks is also hoping to succeed Cardin.

Vogel sharply criticized Cox. 

“He is as bigoted as it gets,” Vogel told the Blade. “He is a far-right extremist who bussed people to D.C. on Jan. 6, who is as homophobic as it gets, and who is as transphobic as it gets.”

Vogel said Maryland voters in November “need to reject Dan Cox” and “we have to reject Larry Hogan.” (Vogel has endorsed Trone’s Senate campaign.)

“We have to elect pro-equality members of Congress this November, to finally secure the protections that we need for our community in Congress,” said Vogel.

Vogel also vowed to “do everything in my power to ensure that” former President Donald Trump does not win re-election in November.

“Three generations in my family: My great-grandparents, my grandparents, my parents experienced the loss of democracy,” Vogel told the Blade. “My great-grandparents escaped fascism. My grandparents and parents lived under a repressive military dictatorship in Uruguay, and I see the concern that my parents feel seeing the rise of Trump.”

“I refuse to be the fourth generation in my family who experienced the loss of democracy,” he added. “This November, the election fundamentally is going to decide the future of our democracy.”

Vogel on Sunday during a forum the Frederick County Democratic Party sponsored criticized McClain Delaney over her 2005 campaign donation to then-U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) after he said gay people should not be teachers.

“I can’t imagine making any sort of political contribution to any anti-LGBTQ+, anti-choice, pro-NRA member of the United States Senate, and let alone the maximum allowed contribution,” said Vogel. “There is a stark contrast there.”

‘My heart breaks for what we saw on’ Oct. 7

Vogel spoke with the Blade less than six months after Hamas launched a surprise attack against southern Israel.

“It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” he said. “What concerns me is that Hamas has made clear that they intend to carry out an attack like that again and again and again and again.”

“My heart breaks for what we saw on that day,” added Vogel.

Vogel is among those who attended a pro-Israel rally that took place on the National Mall last November. He has also met with relatives of hostages who remain in the Gaza Strip.

“Hearing the stories of parents whose kids are still in Gaza, the pain that I feel is tremendous,” said Vogel. “We have to bring those hostages home.”

Vogel told the Blade that Hamas can no longer control Gaza. He also said peace cannot be achieved with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in office.

“If we want to reach peace, a number of things have to happen: Hamas needs to go. We need a change in leadership in Israel and we need diplomatic negotiations to get a bilateral ceasefire, which is not what I think people are calling for when they call for an immediate ceasefire.”

Vogel last October posted to his X account pictures of anti-Semitic graffiti in his apartment building.

He told the Blade the graffiti was removed, but “it took a very long time.” Vogel has introduced a bill that would require the removal of graffiti in a specific period of time if it violates Maryland’s hate crimes law.

Book bans ‘have absolutely no place’

Vogel during the interview also criticized Moms for Liberty and their efforts to ban books in Maryland. He noted Jaime Brennan, the chair of the group’s Frederick County chapter, is running for the county’s Board of Education.

“Book bans in a free democratic society have absolutely no place,” said Vogel.

The Maryland House on March 15 by a 98-37 vote margin approved the Freedom to Read Act. The measure would create a “state policy that local school systems operate their school library media programs consistent with certain standards,” require “each local school system to develop a policy and procedures to review objections to materials in a school library media program” and ban “a county board of education from dismissing, demoting, suspending, disciplining, reassigning, transferring or otherwise retaliating against certain school library media program personnel for performing their job duties consistent with certain standards.”

The bill is now before the Senate Education, Energy and the Environment Committee.

Amber Laenen contributed to this story.

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