ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Homosexual "marriage" may not be in Maryland's immediate future, but same-sex civil unions could be.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch said yesterday that he supports civil unions, three weeks after the state's highest court punted the homosexual "marriage" question to the legislature.
"I believe in civil unions," Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat, said on "The Marc Steiner Show" on Baltimore's WYPR-FM.
"I think people should have the same rights as far as probate is concerned, as far as health care is considered, as far as visitation and all those things."
Mr. Busch made his remarks after Gov. Martin O'Malley, a fellow Democrat, said he would support civil unions. The question is in the hands of politicians after the state Court of Appeals ruled Sept. 18 that while there is no constitutional right to same-sex "marriage," lawmakers are free to grant such a right in law.
"The governor does support civil unions. He's always supported it and continues to support it," O'Malley spokeswoman Christine Hansen said yesterday.
The governor hinted he may even sign a law allowing homosexual "marriage," as long as the bill includes a provision clarifying that churches that oppose such unions would not be compelled to perform or recognize them. Miss Hansen did not elaborate on a marriage bill yesterday, though she said Mr. O'Malley would "look at any bill that anyone proposes as long as it doesn't limit or restrict people's rights."
Even with the support of the governor and speaker, obstacles remain to civil unions in Maryland.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Southern Maryland Democrat, told The Washington Post last month he opposes civil unions, and activists on both sides of the debate oppose civil unions.
Equality Maryland, a homosexual rights group, argues civil unions would establish a separate-but-equal system for same-sex couples.
"Civil unions are specifically designed to withhold marriage from same-sex couples, so the question is, if the state says it's the same thing as marriage, why don't they call it marriage? And if it's not the same thing, what rights are being withheld from same-sex couples that are afforded to others?" said Dan Furmansky, head of Equality Maryland.
On the other side, some conservatives vow to fight a move to set up civil unions in Maryland.
Delegate Don Dwyer Jr. said yesterday he is working on a constitutional amendment to ban homosexual "marriage" and oppose civil unions.
"My problem with it is, once the state recognizes civil unions, they are recognizing a lifestyle," said Mr. Dwyer, Anne Arundel Republican. "Once that happens, there's nothing preventing a judge from ruling that same-sex relationships must be taught in school as normal."
Massachusetts' high court ruled in 2004 that homosexual "marriages" should be legal, but other states have not followed suit. Maryland's court joined New York, New Jersey and Washington in rejecting constitutional rights to same-sex "marriage," though New Jersey's court ordered civil unions.
In Maryland, judges did not order civil unions but said the legislature is free to begin allowing them.
"Our opinion should by no means be read to imply that the General Assembly may not grant and recognize for homosexual persons civil unions or the right to marry a person of the same sex," Judge Glenn T. Harrell Jr. wrote for the majority.