ANNAPOLIS – A Thursday hearing on the Medical Decision-Making Act of 2004 tumbled into a confused discussion about what the bill – which seeks to provide same-sex partners with medical decision-making rights – would or wouldn’t do.
Sponsored by Delegate John A. Hurson, D-Montgomery, the bill creates a state registry for domestic partners, and grants registered same-sex couples the medical decision-making benefits accorded married spouses or family members.
But opponents said the bill was about more than that, citing fears that registering domestic partners would lead to a change in school curriculum, extended health care coverage, deteriorating family values and same-sex marriage.
“Creating these counterfeit marriages promotes unhealthy behavior,” said Doug Stiegler of the Family Protection Lobby, who said domestic abuse and promiscuity are more common among homosexuals. Stiegler called the bill a “mockery of morality,” and said if the law is passed, schools will use it to force a curriculum change.
“Because we have no definition of traditional marriage in the statutes, this is a step towards gay marriage,” said Laura Clark of Catonsville, who was alarmed by the bill joining the terms spouse and domestic partner.
“This bill is not a marriage bill,” said Carrie Evans, spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign. “It seeks to extend dignity to the at least 11,000 same-sex Maryland families.”
Opponents were concerned that a little-noticed clause in the bill could open the opportunity for same-sex couples to reap financial and health insurance benefits from a partner and said that the bill could be expanded through departmental regulation.
That’s wrong, said Hurson. The clause does, however, address companies that provide partner benefits voluntarily. Department regulation isn’t an issue either, he said, because, the health department would only have the power to create the registry, not expand benefits.
“They are delusional,” Hurson said of opponents. “They are trying to make stuff up because they don’t like the bill.”
Opponents also charged the legislation was unclear and would put undue burdens on the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, charged with registering partners.
“The purpose of the health department is to provide health care, not to monitor relationships,” said Pat Kelly, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Catholic Conference.
Some critics added that items included in the bill – such as the ability to make funeral arrangements – exceed the bill’s scope.
Four other states have instituted registries, ranging from civil union in Vermont to a domestic partner bill in New Jersey similar to Hurson’s bill, HB 1284.
Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, questioned why registration is necessary, when power of attorney documents might accomplish the same goal.
Proponents said other rights included in the bill, such as the ability to make funeral arrangements for a deceased partner or have private visits in a nursing home, exceed the legal scope of advance directives or powers of attorney.
Also, legal documents are expensive and registration streamlines the process, said attorney Mark F. Scurti, who testified at the hearing.
Scurti himself was forced to retrieve a directive before visiting his partner in the hospital, but was let in easily by staff the next day when he simply said he was an attorney.
Approving such rights could even improve health outcomes for gays and lesbians, said David Haltiwanger, director of clinical programs and public policy for Chase Brexton Health Services.
“In medicine, we realize that the mind and physical state are connected and patients do better with access to loved ones,” he said.
A vote on the bill has not yet been scheduled. –