- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Maryland Democratic Party Chairman Isiah “Ike” Leggett yesterday said his party hasn’t taken an official position yet on whether the state should extend health and other benefits to partners of state workers in homosexual or other nontraditional domestic relationships.

“We are not taking a position on gay marriage or civil unions,” Mr. Leggett said.

Mr. Leggett last week told The Washington Times that state employees who choose to live in homosexual relationships or in other types of domestic partnerships “should have greater protections and not be discriminated against.” He said these couples should be treated just like spouses of married employees.

“What I was saying is, Democrats generally believe there should be greater protections,” Mr. Leggett said. “Clearly, we have not taken a final position. We want to study the matter further to see if further legislation may be appropriate.”

Mr. Leggett’s new comments comes a day after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, said condoning domestic partnerships “is not the position of this administration.”

Mr. Leggett originally made his comments in an effort to back House Speaker Michael E. Busch’s call for a review of the state’s policy on such unions. Mr. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, also commended corporations that provide benefits to people in domestic partnerships.

Maryland does not legally recognize domestic partnerships, but has allowed homosexual couples to adopt.

However, a growing number of municipalities in the state are beginning to extend benefits to those in domestic partnerships. Montgomery County has spent almost $1 million providing such benefits since 1999, according to a county spokeswoman. Estimates were not available for Baltimore, Greenbelt and Takoma Park, which also extend benefits to those in domestic partnerships.

“What we see in Montgomery County is something we would like to see studied,” said Mr. Leggett, who voted for the legislation while a council member in the late 1990s.

Delegate Richard Madaleno Jr., an openly homosexual Montgomery County Democrat, said a review of the laws would be a “great first step.”

Mr. Madaleno also said he and others are working on “legislation to provide legal recognition for same-sex couples to be introduced next year.”

“I think, clearly, some of our colleagues who are on the opposite side of the issue have let it be known they want to further prohibit gay marriage, since it is not allowed in the state of Maryland,” he said. “It is time that the state look at providing recognition of these relationships for their own stability and security.”

Delegate Theodore J. Sophocleus, Anne Arundel County Democrat, is one party member questioning any move toward expanding state benefits to homosexuals.

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

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

Maryland officials have said they have no estimate of 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 or same-sex “marriages” 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.

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

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

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