Instead of bringing citizens from either side of the gay rights debate closer together, a new state law has driven them further apart.

Deane and Polyak, who have been together for 20 years, were encouraged by the Anti-Discrimination Act of 2001 — legislation passed in the Spring designed to end sexual discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

"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.

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

The new law was supposed to go into effect this Fall, but a group of anti-gay activists that runs a website called takebackmaryland.org has collected more than 50,000 signatures in their 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. He says the law is promoting 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," Kerns said. 

Gay and lesbian groups have launched a counteroffensive. They have filed suit against the state elections board questioning the validity of the petition's signatures.

Both sides are preparing for a contentious battle. They say they'll have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, to get themselves heard before voters take to the booths late next year.