ANNAPOLIS – Over outspoken opposition from conservative delegates, a “life partners” bill passed the Maryland House Thursday.
The bill would allow couples, irrespective of gender, to register as life partners with the state, giving them the right to accompany each other in ambulances, visit in hospitals, make medical decisions and, ultimately, decisions about disposal of remains.
The bill was approved, 83-50, and must now be passed by the Senate, which OK’d an identical bill several weeks ago.
Opponents argued the bill’s blatant, if unspoken, purpose was to allow homosexual civil unions in Maryland, and that currently available advance medical directives and medical powers of attorney were adequate.
“It chips away at the tradition of marriage in Maryland,” said Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert. He said his youngest child is 16, and this bill would let her chose a life partner at 18, the age at which Maryland allows marriages without parental consent.
“People think at that age they’re going to be friends forever. Should tragedy befall my baby girl, her mother and I would have no say because it would have been transferred to her life partner.”
O’Donnell mentioned the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman who recently died in Florida after a bitter court dispute over removal of her feeding tube.
“That was a terrible situation but it was a ‘marital’ situation,” he said.
Many legislators face similar problems as their children grow up, said Delegate John Adams Hurson, D-Montgomery, first of 48 co-sponsors of the bill, which is similar to one the House passed last year. The solution, he said, was for parents to get a medical power of attorney, which would then take precedence over life-partner rights.
The law was needed because there are many long-term couples in the state who need to be able to ride in an ambulance with their partner, but they can’t do that with advance directives, Hurson said.
“Let’s be clear. This bill is a Maryland civil unions bill. It’s a charade played on the citizens of Maryland,” said Delegate Don Dwyer Jr., R-Anne Arundel.
“Don’t mix the issue of same-sex couples with medical decisions,” said Delegate Michael D. Smigiel, R-Cecil.
According to the Maryland state census, there are 99,000 heterosexual couples in committed relationships, and 11,000 gay couples, said Delegate Gareth E. Murray, D-Montgomery, who also wondered why the House was having problems with a bill so similar to one it passed last year.
The bill calls for a dissolution procedure to be defined, but Delegate Joanne S. Parrott, R-Harford, feared that if identity cards were given to life partners, one could use the card to “pull the tubes” on the other even if the incapacitated partner had moved to dissolve the relationship.
“I’m one of the few people in this house who is going to benefit from this bill,” said Delegate Richard S. Madaleno Jr., D-Montgomery.
He spoke of a gay couple where one partner fell ill in Harford and was taken by medical helicopter to Baltimore. The healthy partner, who was prevented from accompanying him, then drove to Baltimore, but was barred from visiting until hours later when a sister arrived from Northern Virginia.
“He couldn’t get in, while his dying partner was spending his last few hours of consciousness without his partner to hold his hand.”
Another member of a gay couple was prohibited from visiting his hospitalized partner when he said he was a friend, but was admitted when he said, “I’m his attorney,” Madaleno said.
The attorney general had made clear that this bill would deal with 11 situations, seven of which would not be addressed by a power of attorney.
“I beg my colleagues to support this bill,” Madaleno said. “I cannot believe that you find me so repulsive, my way of life so repulsive, the way of life of tens of thousands of people like myself . . . .”
O’Donnell attempted to interrupt.
Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, shushed him.
O’Donnell forged ahead, saying, “I want to make it perfectly clear that my opposition is not because I find anyone repulsive.”
The governor has not taken a formal position and will reserve judgment until the bill reaches his desk and he can give it careful consideration, said spokesman Henry Fawell.