ANNAPOLIS — On the General Assembly’s final day, the Senate killed legislation that would have protected transgendered individuals from discrimination in employment, housing and credit.
By a 27-20 vote, the Senate on Monday sent the anti-discrimination measure — which had passed the House of Delegates — back to the Judicial Proceedings Committee. The procedural move ended consideration of the bill this legislative session, which concluded at midnight.
Morgan Meneses-Sheets, of Equality Maryland, said the transgender-rights group was “shocked and disappointed” that a majority of senators “took a walk on fairness” and did not vote to pass the legislation.
“This is a bill about preventing discrimination,” said Meneses-Sheets, the group’s executive director. “”What can be more common sense than that?”
Meneses-Sheets, whose group led the lobbying fight for the bill, said the battle will continue next session.
“We will come back even stronger,” she said.
But Ruth M. Jacobs, president of Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government, hailed the Senate’s refusal to vote on the bill.
Jacobs said an individual’s gender identity is not an immutable characteristic — such as one’s skin color or religion — and does not warrant legal protection from discrimination.
“People know that you can’t change your sex,” said Jacobs, who testified against the bill last week before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “You can disguise or camouflage it but not change it. We think that the senators recognized this.”
Before the Senate vote, Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin tried in vain to save the legislation he co-sponsored.
“This is about giving people the right to live someplace and the right to earn a living,” Raskin, D-Montgomery, told his colleagues.
The measure, House Bill 235, was designed to prevent discrimination against individuals based on their “gender identity,” which was defined in the House-passed version as a person’s “gender-related identity, or appearance of an individual regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth.”
Raskin said the measure had been “markedly whittled down” in an attempt by sponsors to address the opponents’ concern that the legislation provided too broad protection for such a small segment of the population.
Specifically, the bill’s lead sponsors eliminated a provision of the original measure that would have banned discrimination against transgendered individuals in public accommodations, such as at retail stores, theaters and professional sports arenas, Raskin said.
Removal of the public-accommodations provision, which many supporters had hoped would ensure passage, upset two groups that represent transgendered individuals. Trans-United and TransMaryland ultimately opposed the final version of the bill.
Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk, the legislation’s chief sponsor, said she was “very disappointed” with the Senate’s decision to recommit a bill that the House had passed and which had clear majority support in the Senate committee.
“It is irresponsible what the Senate did today,” said Pena-Melnyk, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s. “Shameful.”
Meneses-Sheets, of Equality Maryland, said the Senate had committed a “political betrayal” by failing to vote on and pass the legislation after sponsors had removed the public accommodations provision in an effort to alleviate opponents’ concerns.
“Such a huge political compromise was made, yet they still did not have the courage to stand by this community and do what’s right,” Meneses-Sheets said of the senators who voted to send the bill back to committee.
The House had passed the legislation on a vote of 86-52 on March 25. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee voted 7 to 4 on Saturday to send the bill to the Senate floor.
The death of the transgender rights measure was reminiscent of the demise last month of legislation to permit same-sex couples to marry in Maryland. The Senate had passed the proposed Civil Marriage Protection Act in February but the House ended consideration of the bill until next year by voting to recommit it to the House Judiciary Committee.