- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — A coalition of traditional-values groups yesterday applauded Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s vetoes of homosexual rights bills and vowed to pursue a referendum on the legislation to thwart an override of the vetoes.

“We cannot and will not let up. We have not won this battle,” Delegate Don Dwyer Jr. said at a press conference at the State House. “We’ve simply made one step in the right direction as a result of the governor’s veto.”

Mr. Dwyer, Anne Arundel County Republican, also said he would push next year for an amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Maryland law currently defines marriage in such terms, but supporters of traditional marriage fear the law could be overturned by courts, as in the 2003 ruling in Massachusetts.

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in College Park, said lawmakers will suffer politically for supporting the homosexual agenda, especially in black communities.

“We cannot equate gay rights with black civil rights,” he said. “Gayness is a choice, we believe and most Americans believe. It is something that should not be given all the rights pursuant to marriage.”

The coalition, which includes the Christian Coalition of Maryland and Defend Maryland Marriage, have until June 30 to submit 51,185 signatures to qualify for a referendum on the 2006 ballot.

The signature drive is targeting two bills vetoed by the governor and two bills that the governor is expected to sign into law today. A separate 51,185 valid signatures must be submitted for each of the four bills.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, last week vetoed the Medical Decision-Making Act. The measure would have allowed same-sex couples to register as “life partners,” giving them the right to make medical decisions for their partners, visit each other in the hospital and make decisions about the disposition of a deceased partner’s body.

He also vetoed a bill that would have granted domestic partners — including homosexuals — an exemption from taxes when adding a partner to a real-estate deed. That exemption is granted only to married couples and family members.

Mr. Ehrlich, who was out of town yesterday, has said the bills would have “undermined the sanctity of traditional marriage as codified by state law.”

However, he also said he remains “sympathetic to the needs of a mutually dependent couple.”

He said he will introduce legislation next year to address some of the issues raised in the vetoed bills. Mr. Ehrlich has said some medical decision-making rights should be extended to unmarried partners, but he has not publicly endorsed extending those rights to homosexuals.

“I can’t imagine what he is thinking about,” Mr. Dwyer said. “I’ll have to see what is proposed.”

The governor is expected to sign the Safe Schools Reporting Act and the Hate Crime Penalties Act.

The first, also known as the “bully bill,” would require schools to report incidents of harassment or intimidation between students and note cases in which sexual orientation was the basis for the bullying.

The other would expand the state’s hate-crime statute to make homosexuals a protected class.

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