- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Grass-roots organizers of a petition drive seeking a referendum to overturn a new homosexual rights law in Maryland are considering ending the drive today because of problems in the petition process.
"We're in settlement discussions," said Brian Fahling, an attorney for TakeBackMaryland.org, the group seeking to overturn the new law.
A source close to the group's campaign told The Washington Times that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is working with proponents of the law, had threatened to charge organizers with perjury because they had been unable to physically witness and thereby validate each petition signature.
But attorneys on both sides of the issue denied the accusation. "They have behaved appropriately, obviously it's in an adversarial context, but they have behaved fine," said Mr. Fahling, a lawyer for the American Family Association, based in Mississippi.
The central issue in the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court case is the validity of some of the more than 47,000 signatures grass-roots groups collected to bring the law before a statewide vote in next year's general election. The law, which was passed in the last General Assembly and signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening this year, adds sexual orientation to existing state law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, religion or race.
While TakeBackMaryland.org had collected 1,411 more signatures than needed, a court master found problems with as many as 7,500.
Attorneys for the law's supporters seeking to end the referendum drive had planned to ask for a summary judgment Monday. They delayed that action until today because they were told TakeBackMaryland.org was considering settling, which would end the referendum drive. The grass-roots coalition was to let them know its decision by noon today.
The Rev. Matt Sine, co-chairman of TakeBackMaryland.org, said a decision had been made on whether to continue, but he refused to comment on the decision. He said the coalition, regardless of the outcome of this campaign, would continue to seek to scrap the law.
"We are not dropping our campaign against the gay agenda," Mr. Sine said. "The only thing at this point [we are doing is deciding on] settling this particular lawsuit."
But Mark Hart, another leader of the coalition, said he was not aware of any plans to drop the referendum drive and would be angered if it were.
Tres Kerns, the third coalition leader, was not available for comment.
Free State Justice, a Maryland homosexual rights group, has joined forces with the ACLU and others to stop the referendum. Some have questioned the proponents' tactics in questioning every petition signature and not focusing on the intent of those who signed their names.
Mr. Sine previously had called the proponent's signature-hunting plan "search and destroy political tactics."
"We respect the referendum process," said Charles Butler, a D.C.-based attorney working with the proponents of the law. "But the petition in this case did not meet the statutes."
Should TakeBackMaryland.org decide not to settle, proponents of the law will file for a summary judgment today and TakeBackMaryland.org would have until Nov. 30 to reply.
Mr. Fahling said that when TakeBackMaryland.org's opponents first began to question the validity of the signatures, the coalition was confident it would prevail. However, that feeling changed over time.
Mr. Fahling, who spoke from his offices in Mississippi, questioned whether anyone in Maryland under the current system could seek a referendum on any legislation.
"The constitutional provisions, statutes and administrative regulation are set up for failure for those who seek petition," he said. "They all really make the process a losing battle."


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