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Commentary: Marylanders deserve comprehensive anti-discrimination protections

LGBTQ+ Pride flags. Photo by Susan J. Demas/Michigan Advance.

By Camila Reynolds-Dominguez

The writer is policy advocate and legal impact coordinator for Free State Justice, Maryland’s LGBTQ advocates. 

Marylanders are now without legal protections for many forms of discrimination, leaving them exposed to serious harms with no state-level legal recourse.

This past August, the Maryland Supreme Court issued a troubling ruling in John Doe v. CRS. The decision weakened the statutory protections afforded to all Marylanders under every state anti-discrimination clause.

The Court said, “The General Assembly’s practice, as we understand it, has been to specifically identify the categories it intends to protect in antidiscrimination statutes.”

So, if a protected category of individual is not specifically named in a given anti-discrimination clause, the omitted category does not get the protections of the clause, even if they are protected elsewhere.

The logic of the ruling is applicable to every single protected category currently enumerated anywhere in state law, and to all anti-discrimination language proposed in this or future sessions.

To understand the scope of the ruling’s impact, FreeState Justice conducted a survey of anti-discrimination clauses and found that the enumerations of protected classes are extremely inconsistent from clause to clause — not just for sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, but also disability, religion, and race, among others.

Under John Doe v. CRS, these inconsistencies mean that there are now significant gaps in the anti-discrimination framework within state law. The General Assembly must take swift and comprehensive action to rectify this far-reaching decision.

Without a comprehensive response, any other current or future piecemeal attempts to remedy Doe will only perpetuate the problem of patchwork anti-discrimination language that the decision created. This includes House Speaker Adrienne Jones’ bill, House Bill 602, which adds protections for sexual orientation in employment discrimination (which we support) but does not remedy gaps in protections for any other traditionally protected category.

This legislative session there is a comprehensive bill designed to remedy all the gaps created by the John Doe v. CRS case: Del. Gary Simmons’ HB 1397, which on Monday passed the House 127-9. The bill received supportive written testimony from a diverse group of Maryland-based and national organizations during public hearings.

The General Assembly must ensure that all people in every protected category are not subject to discrimination based on their protected characteristics in any context. Without HB 1397, all 6 million Marylanders’ legal shield from discrimination will continue to have significant holes.

Marylanders need to be assured that, under Maryland law, they are protected from all forms of discrimination in every context.

The following organizations have co-signed this commentary:

FreeState Justice

Disability Rights Maryland


Episcopal Diocese of Maryland

Metropolitan Washington Employment Lawyers’ Association

Queer Youth Assemble


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Commentary: Marylanders deserve comprehensive anti-discrimination protections