On Thursday, May 15, 2014, Governor O’Malley signed into law the “Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014,” adding gender identity and expression to the list of protected classifications under Maryland law. Maryland joins 17 other states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico in providing this protection.
The law takes effect on October 1, 2014 and prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation. Enforcement will be through the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights.
The law provides an exemption for religious entities (the same exemption applies to religion and sexual orientation) that states that such an entity is permitted to discriminate “with respect to the employment of individuals . . . to perform work connected with the activities of the religious entity.” This exemption protects the Constitutional separation of “church and state.”
The law also provides that an employer may continue to require employees to adhere to “reasonable workplace appearance, grooming and dress standards that are directly related to the nature of the employment of the employee and that are not precluded by any provision of State or federal law, as long as the employer allows any employee to appear, groom, and dress consistent with the employee’s gender identity.”
This all seems simple enough and it has been a long time coming. But last month, after passage of the bill, Delegate Parrott of Washington County announced his intention to launch a petition drive to repeal what he has tagged as the “bathroom bill.” With little else to rally those against providing protection based on gender identity, opponents have created a boogeyman of non-transgendered men dressing up as women to use women’s restrooms for voyeuristic or criminal intent.
Put aside for the moment, if you can, that those other states, as well as Montgomery County, Howard County and Baltimore City, all have protected gender identity without difficulty or a rush of men in drag headed to the ladies room. And, put aside the fact that if someone – anyone – uses a restroom for voyeuristic or criminal intent that person violates the law.
To get repeal of the Act on the ballot in November, the State Constitution requires that there be 55,736 signatures on the petition (equal to 3 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election), with 18,579 of those signatures collected by May 31. The group collecting the signatures, MDPetitions.com was able to collect enough to get Maryland laws on same-sex marriage, in-state tuition for certain illegal immigrants, and the Congressional restricting plan to ballot, but lost all three referendums in the election. Let’s hope it doesn’t get on the ballot, but if it does that the same result obtains this time.