ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A measure to prevent discrimination against people who are transgender cleared the Maryland General Assembly on Thursday, and Gov. Martin O'Malley plans to sign the bill into law.
The House of Delegates passed the measure 82-57 on Thursday after a long and sometimes heated debate that focused largely on how the bill would affect use of public restrooms and gym showers.
All 82 delegates who voted for the bill were Democrats, while 42 Republicans and 15 Democrats voted against the bill. The measure would prevent discrimination on matters relating to housing, employment, credit and use of public accommodations such as hotels and restaurants.
Supporters said the bill was long overdue, and they noted that some of Maryland's larger counties already have a similar law. For example, Del. Kumar Barve said Montgomery County has about 1 million residents living under a statute that is fundamentally the same as the bill lawmakers were voting on, and there have not been problems with the law.
"I'm voting for this because it really is the proper resolution of an American standard. That American standard says you don't have to like me or anybody else, but in a civilized society we have to make accommodations for our equal citizen partners here," Del. Kumar Barve, D-Montgomery, said.
The legislation defines gender identity as the gender-related identity, appearance, expression or behavior of a person, regardless of the person's assigned sex at birth. Under the bill, gender identity is demonstrated as "consistent and uniform assertion of the person's gender identity or any other evidence that the gender identity is sincerely held as part of the person's core identity."
Opponents focused on whether men would be allowed to use women's restrooms.
"I have not had a single person contact me and say: 'Please, please, let men go into the women's room if they have this certain identity,'" Del. Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, said.
Critics also were worried about men who identified with being women would be able to shower with girls at public swimming pools.
"I can tell everyone that I feel like a man inside, but I am in a woman's body, and I would not think to go shower in a man's locker room," said Del. Kathy Afzali, R-Frederick.
Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, D-Prince George's, said in those circumstances, a transgender person would be asked to use another space to shower. If a facility does not have a separate space, putting up a curtain and a rod would suffice, Pena-Melnyk said.
"The bill does not require you to build or spend any money," Pena-Melnyk said.
Pena-Melnyk also said the public accommodations part of the bill does not include school bathrooms.
O'Malley, a Democrat, congratulated the bill sponsors, Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, and Sel. Luke Clippinger, D-Baltimore.
"We're proud to stand with these leaders, the LGBT community, and other allies to complete this major piece of unfinished business — ensuring that everyone is protected from discrimination under the law," O'Malley said in a statement. "I look forward to signing this bill."
Supporters said 16 states and the District of Columbia have similar laws protecting transgender rights.