- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — House lawmakers approved legislation yesterday allowing homosexual couples to register as “life partners,” a status giving them the rights to make medical decisions for their partner and visit each other in the hospital.

Delegate Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery Democrat and one of three openly homosexual members of the General Assembly, said the legislation would give “dignity” to tens of thousands of same-sex couples in Maryland.

Mr. Madaleno said he plans to register as a “life partner” with his companion.

“I don’t want my partner to sit in a hospital alone surrounded by strangers, facing an emergency,” he said during an impassioned speech on the House floor.

Critics say such rights already are available to unmarried couples through existing legal arrangements and that the bill presented a foothold for advocates of civil unions or homosexual “marriage” in the state.

“It expands recognition of gay interests past this” bill, said House Minority Leader George C. Edwards, Western Maryland Republican. “People in the future who want to get more things for gay people will use this. It puts the camel’s nose under the tent.”

The bill passed 83-50, with three of 43 Republican delegates joining the Democratic majority in support of the measure.

A similar bill passed the Senate last month along similar party lines in a 31-16 vote, which gives it a good chance of final adoption before the scheduled end of General Assembly session Monday night.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has not taken a position on the bill, though he has previously stated his opposition to civil unions for homosexual couples. A spokesman for Mr. Ehrlich yesterday said the governor would be studying the legislation.

The bill would allow persons — heterosexual or homosexual — to register as “life partners” with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene if each is at least 18 years old and they live together and profess a relationship of mutual dependance.

However, lawmakers clearly stated the bill is intended to give homosexual couples the same rights as married couples in matters of hospital visits and medical decisions.

According to the legislation, “life partners” also would have the right to accompany each other in ambulances, make decisions about the disposition of a deceased partner’s body and live together in the same room in a nursing home.

Supporters said the fear of the “life partner” registry leading to civil unions or homosexual “marriage” was unfounded.

“This is not about marriage,” Delegate John A. Hurson, Montgomery Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill, said earlier this week. “It is about being able to make medical decisions for someone they love.”

He called the ability to make medical decision and have hospital visits a “human right.”

Homosexual rights groups applauded the bill’s passage.

“We are thrilled that the Maryland General Assembly has taken steps to make sure nobody is kept from their partner at a crucial time in life,” said Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, a civil rights group for the state’s homosexuals. “I don’t think this paves the way to gay marriage,” he said. “I think the agenda is pretty clear. Gay and lesbian Marylanders are struggling for equal protection under the law.”

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