- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2002

Family groups in Maryland are upset with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend's support for extending benefits to same-sex partners, while homosexual rights groups in the state say they would like to hear more from her Republican opponent, Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., about his views on the subject.
Mrs. Townsend, the Democratic nominee for governor, recently expressed support for granting benefits to same-sex domestic partners of state workers. She said while she would want to wait until the state's economic outlook improves before taking the step, "down the line, I think it makes sense."
Family groups such as the Family Protection Lobby say extending benefits is not acceptable.
"We are talking about a behavior," said David Stiegler, who heads the Woodstock, Md.-based group. "It is not a civil right. And it just bothers me on a moral basis that we would encourage and fund anybody who does this."
Homosexual rights groups say they would like to see more focus on same-sex issues in the gubernatorial campaign. They give Mrs. Townsend high marks for trying to continue Gov. Parris N. Glendening's efforts to advance homosexual rights: Seth Kilbourn, national field director for the District-based group Human Rights Campaign, said Mrs. Townsend had a "very strong record" on supporting homosexual issues.
But groups say Mr. Ehrlich needs to work harder to reach out to same-sex couples.
In a scorecard of congressional voting records on homosexual issues done by the Human Rights Campaign, Mr. Ehrlich scored 33 percent in the last session.
Erin Leveton, chairman of Free State Justice, a Silver Spring-based homosexual rights group, said Mrs. Townsend had been vocal in her support of homosexual rights issues such as equal benefits for state employees, but the group had not heard anything from Mr. Ehrlich.
"It is a little scary because we don't know where he stands," she said.
Last year, Maryland became one of 12 states to pass a law protecting homosexuals from discrimination. The law prohibits discrimination based on a person's sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations, though it includes a statement that it is not to be construed as legitimizing homosexual "marriage."
Asked whether her administration would build on Mr. Glendening's efforts to advance homosexual rights, Mrs. Townsend said her comments on benefits for same-sex partners is a clear enough indication.
She said that she does not endorse homosexual unions, a position also held by Mr. Ehrlich.
The Republican candidate said that while he opposes discrimination, he would not propose legislation to extend benefits to same-sex partners or to legalize same-sex unions.
"I think you have to be careful with regard to policy that impacts marriage," Mr. Ehrlich said. "I am a strong proponent of the institution of marriage, and I did vote for the Defense of Marriage Act.
"My view is this: Leave people alone, particularly in their bedrooms. It's not the government's business," he said. "I feel equally strongly that the institution of marriage … should be protected."
The Defense of Marriage Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. It defines marriage as "the union of a man and a woman as husband and wife."
It also asserts Congress' prerogative in interpreting the U.S. Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause so that states do not have to recognize homosexual "marriages" performed in other states.
Mr. Ehrlich noted that he had approved a 1998 executive order issued by Mr. Clinton that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and that he had voted to retain language in a House resolution allowing D.C. employees the right to purchase health benefits for domestic partners at their own expense.
In July 2000, Vermont created a "civil union" status that gave homosexual partners the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. Vermont has since issued more than 4,200 "civil union" certificates to homosexual couples, about 80 percent of whom came from other states.
Nationally, about 4,500 employers offer health benefits to domestic partners, about two-thirds of those to homosexual as well as heterosexual couples. The vast majority of those employers are private companies, nonprofits or unions only nine are states and 134 are municipalities.
Locally, Montgomery County, the District and the cities of Baltimore and Takoma Park offer domestic-partner benefits.

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