Legislation supported by gay rights activists that would create a registry giving unmarried partners the right to make medical decisions for each other was approved Friday by the Maryland senate.
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 was waiting for senate action before taking up this year's bill.
While the bill was promoted by gay rights groups, it would apply to all unmarried couples who want 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 partners' hospital rooms, share rooms in nursing homes, share ambulance rides, and make decisions about whether to bury or
cremate after death.
Most opponents who spoke during the brief but emotional debate said they opposed the bill because it is not needed. Republican senator Alex Mooney called the bill "a step toward homosexual marriage" and said its purpose is "promoting the radical homosexual agenda."
Democratic senator Paul Pinsky said the bill is not about gay 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, a Baltimore Democrat and sponsor of the bill, said her measure 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 gay 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," 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. (AP)