- The Washington Times - Friday, March 25, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The Senate yesterday approved legislation supported by homosexual rights activists that would create a registry giving unmarried couples the right to make medical decisions for each other.

The bill cleared the Senate on a 31-16 roll call, seven votes more than the number required for passage. It now goes to the House of Delegates, which passed similar legislation last year but which was waiting for Senate action before taking up this year’s bill.

While the bill was promoted by homosexual rights groups, it would apply to any unmarried couple that wants to register with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Registration would guarantee partners the right to make medical decisions for each other, visit their partner’s hospital room, share rooms in nursing homes, share ambulance rides and make decisions about whether to bury or cremate after death.

Most opponents who spoke during brief but emotional debate said they opposed the bill because it is not needed. Sen. Alex X. Mooney, Frederick County Republican, called the bill “a step toward homosexual ‘marriage’” and said its purpose is “promoting the radical homosexual agenda.”

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George’s Democrat, said the bill is not about same-sex “marriage” but is needed to help deal with “a homophobic problem.”

“What the bill does is give fair rights in a reasoned way,” he said, saying a vote in favor of it “is a vote for civil rights and decency.”

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, Baltimore Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, said her bill applies to heterosexual and homosexual couples, including elderly people whose spouses have died and who can’t afford to get married because they would lose Social Security and pension payments.

New Jersey, Maine and California also have domestic partner registries, but those states offer a broader range of rights to registry members, said homosexual rights lobbyist Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland.

Maryland’s bill is limited to offering medical- and hospital-related rights.

“It’s about peace of mind for thousands of Maryland families,” Mr. Furmansky said. “It’s basic common decency to pass it into law as soon as possible.”

A second bill championed by Equality Maryland, which would add crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation to the state’s hate crimes law, has passed the House of Delegates and is awaiting action in the Senate.

• • •

The House Health and Government Operations Committee on Thursday approved a bill that would fund embryonic stem-cell research.

The bill differs from one approved by a Senate panel earlier this week. The House version includes an amendment lowering the amount of state money to be granted for the research from $25 million to $23 million.

Prospects for the bill are uncertain.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, said this week the bill still faces opposition in a second Senate committee and a possible filibuster if the bill reaches the floor.

• • •

The House yesterday approved a bill that would allow Montgomery County to install radar-activated speed cameras.

The legislation, which passed 81-44, drew heated debate on the floor, with opponents arguing that it could open the door for other jurisdictions to apply for the same permission.

The cameras photograph license plates of vehicles going more than 10 mph above the speed limit, and the owners get tickets in the mail. In the District, cameras have caught more than 1.7 million violators since 1999.

Opponents said the cameras intrude on civil liberties. When Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed a speed-camera bill in 2003, he said the cameras allow “both charging and trial by camera.”

Supporters say they prevent accidents and deter violators.

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