- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2001

Supporters of Maryland's new law banning discrimination against homosexuals filed suit yesterday, challenging the petition and signature-gathering efforts that put the issue on the ballot in the 2002 general election.
The suit, filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, claims violations of statutory law, including a requirement to provide a summary of the legislation on the petition.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include individuals in most of Maryland's 23 counties and the city of Baltimore as well as two organizations that work for homosexual, bisexual and transgender rights: Free State Justice and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland.
Election officials announced this month that opponents of the law collected 47,539 valid signatures from registered voters, 1,411 more signatures than were required to force a vote on the law passed by the General Assembly in April.
Charles J. Butler, an attorney representing the plaintiffs pro bono, said yesterday about 4,000 signatures should be disqualified on technical grounds.
The State Board of Elections primarily relied on local election boards to certify signatures, Mr. Butler said.
"We want to make sure all the rules and regulations were followed by the county election boards in qualifying signatures," said Blake Humphreys, Free State Justice executive director.
The plaintiffs contend that some activists who opposed the measure committed fraud by misrepresenting the legislation to obtain signatures, and at the time the referendum was announced the director of the Maryland Board of Elections said that five signatures were disqualified at the request of a "handful" of voters who said they misunderstood.
Mr. Butler also said the law cannot be petitioned to referendum because it covers places that serve alcoholic beverages, and the state constitution prohibits such laws from being placed on the ballot throughout the petition process.
Tres Kerns, spokesman for takebackmaryland.org, the group that gathered signatures to block the law, said he does not think the lawsuit will prevail. He said opponents are engaging in a campaign of intimidation to try to block the referendum vote.
"We are willing to take our case in front of the public. I don't understand why they are afraid," Mr. Kerns said.
The law, which was slated to go into effect Oct. 1, would make it illegal to discriminate against individuals in employment, housing or public accommodations because of their sexual orientation.
The bill proposed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, was amended to specify that it does not authorize same-sex marriages, require sexual orientation to be a part of school curriculum or require employers to offer health benefits to unmarried partners.
Similar laws have already been enacted in 11 states and the District of Columbia, as well as Montgomery, Prince George's and Howard counties and Baltimore.
Activists for homosexual, bisexual and transgender groups say polls show 60 percent of Marylanders oppose sexual orientation-based discrimination.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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