Baltimore residents Gita Deane and Lisa Polyak have been together as a lesbian couple for 20 years, during which they’ve often been the subject of discrimination.

"We were harassed by our neighbor; not only was he harassing us while we lived there, but he was sending the letters to my place of employment," Deane said.

So the two women, who have two young daughters, were encouraged by the Anti-Discrimination Act of 2001, passed in the spring. It’s a new Maryland law designed to end sexual discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations such as restaurants.

"We're not talking about any special favors and special rights," Deane said. "We're talking about basic things."

The new law was supposed to go into effect this fall, but a group that opposes it, which has a Web site called TakeBackMaryland.org, collected more than 50,000 signatures in its drive to repeal the law. That's enough to put it on hold until voters decide on the November 2002 ballot whether they want it in place.

Tres Kerns, who is spearheading the petition drive, says someone's sexual preference should not be a civil right, and he says the law promotes something that's against his religious convictions.

"We believe this is taking us down a path that a lot of Americans and a lot of Marylanders don’t want to go to, which is basically affirming and accepting homosexuality as normal," he said.

And the battle is on.

Gay and lesbian groups have launched a counteroffensive, filing suit against the state Elections Board that questions whether the petition's signatures are valid.

Both sides say they'll have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars — if not a million — in order to present their views to Maryland voters. Those voters will decide next year.