- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah “Ike” Leggett said yesterday that extending benefits to state employees in same-sex unions is part of the party platform.

The statement markedly advances the state party’s position on benefits to domestic partners recently put forth by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat.

“We think that people should have greater protections and not be discriminated against,” Mr. Leggett said.

Mr. Busch called only for a review of the state laws regarding civil unions. He lauded companies for extending domestic-partner benefits to employees in same-sex relationships but said the state’s law on civil unions is unclear.

Mr. Leggett said Mr. Busch’s statement shows “a strong attitude among Democrats” to provide additional protections for the partners.

“In many ways, it is part of what we have expressed in the past.” he added.

Maryland law has no provision for homosexuals to marry legally. However, there is a trend among governments within the state to extending such benefits to members of nontraditional households. The city of Greenbelt last week joined Baltimore, Montgomery County and Takoma Park in extending such benefits.

Montgomery County has collected nearly $2 million in additional taxes since 1999 to extend civil-union benefits to domestic partners. Maryland officials say they have no estimate on how much it would cost taxpayers for a statewide plan.

However, not all Democrats or Republicans agree with extending the benefits.

“I am opposed to it,” Delegate Herbert H. McMillan, Anne Arundel Republican, said. “And I think most people in my district are opposed to it. If you are going to give gay couples the same benefits as traditional couples, why shouldn’t you give the same to heterosexual couples who are not married? It is one thing to be tolerant, but it is another thing to give approbation and encourage that lifestyle.”

Delegate Neil Quinter, Howard County Democrat, said he backs the party.

“I would support civil-union legislation,” he said. “The reality is people are going to be in homosexual unions whether we have civil-union legislation or not.”

However, he acknowledged the Montgomery County plan was extensive and perhaps too costly right now for a state in a budget crisis.

“I support the principle,” he said. “It is just a matter of whether we can afford to do it this year or need to hold off a couple of years.”

Forty states, but not Maryland, have passed laws that say they will not legally acknowledge same-sex unions of couples who move from other jurisdictions.

However, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office in 1999 ordered law-enforcement officials to cease enforcing the state’s sodomy law.

Mr. Leggett has said the party has no position on honoring same-sex unions from other jurisdictions and that no bills are on the table.

Gay unions are now permitted in parts of Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium. Vermont is the only state that treats same-sex unions the same as traditional families.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has said he opposes same-sex unions.

“All of his decisions would be on preserving the traditional institution of marriage,” an Ehrlich administration spokesman said yesterday.

State Republican Party Chairman John M. Kane said his concerns were financial and political.

“The financial challenges to extend the benefits wouldn’t be a financially sensible thing to do,” Mr. Kane said. “And that is before you get into the whole argument of same-sex unions, which we do not support.”

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