- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 22, 2001

Organizers of a petition seeking to overturn a new homosexual-rights law in Maryland abandoned their efforts yesterday to bring the issue to a vote in a statewide referendum.
"There are insufficient signatures to sustain the petition certification," said Brian Fahling, attorney for TakeBackMaryland.org, the grass-roots group opposed to the law. "They worked hard, and they worked long and tirelessly and now its all for naught."
The law adds sexual orientation to existing state laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, religion and sex. It was scheduled to take effect Oct. 1 but was delayed pending the referendum. As a result of yesterday's events, it went into effect immediately.
TakeBackMaryland.org had collected more than 47,000 signatures to bring the bill to a statewide vote next November. Supporters of the law questioned the validity of the signatures, and last month a court master appointed by the Anne Arundel Circuit Court found problems with as many as 7,500 signatures.
"They only needed to gather 3 percent of registered voters' signatures based on the last gubernatorial election, and that is not a lot of people," said Charles Butler, attorney for the proponents of the law.
The petitioners needed 46,128 valid signatures.
"Their petition lacked the required number of signatures and it says that the citizens of Maryland stand for equality and fairness and did not support the TakeBackMaryland position," Mr. Butler said.
The Rev. Matt Sine, a TakeBackMaryland.org co-chairman, disagreed.
"It's only through technicalities that the other side has done a very good job to bring an end to this referendum process," Mr. Sine said.
Last month, Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Eugene Lerner ordered TakeBackMaryland.org to pay $4,000 of the $40,000 cost of reviewing the signatures.
Mr. Fahling yesterday said the judge's decision had no bearing on the group's ultimate decision to withdraw.
"We weren't happy with it, but this did not impact the decision at all," he said.
Early this year, the General Assembly approved and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, signed the law.
"The Orthodox Jewish community and the Orthodox rabbis are very upset about [this decision]," said Mark Hart, one of the three lead organizers of TakeBack-Maryland.org. "This goes against our tenets. The Torah considers homosexuality an abomination."
Mr. Sine vowed to continue to campaign against what he called the state's "gay-rights" agenda.
"Any form of a domestic partnership bill or hate-crimes bill, we will oppose," he said, adding that the group plans to seek out legislators in the General Assembly to overturn this law.
The effort to include homosexuals in the state anti-discrimination law had been under way for nearly 10 years. In recent years Mr. Glendening had led the campaign, and yesterday he said he was grateful the law is now going into effect.
Recalling the initial settlers in Maryland who escaped persecution in England, "Maryland begins the 21st century as a beacon of fairness, justice and inclusion," Mr. Glendening said in statement. "We move forward knowing that every Marylander will be able to reach his or her full potential, without regard to whom they happen to love."
The Rev. Gary Cox, director of the Frederick-based Family Heritage Matters, which helped collect the signatures, was surprised by the decision to abandon the referendum.
"There is never any guarantee that when you start a petition drive you are going to be successful," Mr. Cox said, adding that he supports the political process.


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