- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said yesterday he would veto Democratic Party attempts to extend domestic benefits to state workers in civil unions.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, told The Washington Times that he has a libertarian view on the issue of privacy in the bedroom but that the administration has no place giving benefits to people who choose same-sex partnerships.

Maryland acknowledges such partnerships, or civil unions, but does not consider them equal to a conventional marriages and has no statute requiring the state to extend benefits to domestic partners.

Mr. Ehrlich’s statements come after Democratic Party Chairman Isiah “Ike” Leggett said the party is leaning toward extending benefits to state employees in civil unions.

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

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, has lauded corporations that provide benefits to people in civil unions and has called for a review of the state’s policy on such unions.

Mr. Leggett said the state Democratic Party’s view is “in many ways part of what we have expressed in the past.”

Mr. Ehrlich said he was unsure whether Mr. Leggett was speaking for the Democratic Caucus or the Democratic Party.

Though some Democrats have declined to comment on the bill until it is formally presented, Delegate Theodore J. Sophocleus, Anne Arundel County, has distanced himself from his party’s position.

“I don’t think the party speaks for all of us,” he said. “I listen to my constituency, and I don’t agree.

However, Mr. Sophocleus said homosexuals are “free to behave in any way they like.”

It is a moral issue for him but a financial one for the state, he said.

Delegate Neil Quinter, Howard County Democrat, said his primary concern was whether the state budget could handle giving benefits such as health care and retirement packages to people in civil unions.

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

Though Maryland law has no provision for homosexuals to marry legally, Baltimore, Greenbelt, Montgomery County and Takoma Park have extended such benefits.

Montgomery County has collected $200,000 in taxes every year since 1999 to extend civil-union benefits to domestic partners, a county spokeswoman said.

Maryland officials have said they have no estimate what such a statewide plan would cost taxpayers.

Forty states, not including Maryland, have passed laws stating they will not legally acknowledge the civil 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.

Gay unions are now permitted in parts of Belgium, Canada and the Netherlands. Vermont is the only U.S. state that treats civil unions the same as traditional marriages.

Mr. Ehrlich said the administration has no position on how to handle the influx of those already in same-sex “marriages.”

“We haven’t even looked at that,” he said.

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