ANNAPOLIS – A conservative lawmaker began working to repeal a measure allowing unmarried couples to make medical decisions for their life partners just hours after it passed the General Assembly by Monday’s deadline.
Delegate Don Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, has already filed a petition with the State Board of Elections for a voter referendum to repeal the bill.
“Let’s stop the charade,” Dwyer said. “Let’s call the bill what it is. It’s Maryland’s civil union bill,” a measure used by other states to give gay couples rights similar to married heterosexuals.
Dwyer decided to file his petition despite a late-hour amendment to the bill reiterating that Maryland law defines marriage as a union between a man and woman.
“I also know we have a case in court to overturn Maryland law,” Dwyer said. “That amendment is useless if the court invalidates Maryland law.”
Dwyer has been active on such issues this year, co-sponsoring one measure to ban same-sex marriages and backing another to prohibit Maryland from recognizing such marriages performed in other states.
The proposals failed to make it out of the House Judiciary Committee.
“I see this (life partners’ act) as an erosion of the American view of law and government. I see it as providing class benefits to a specific group of people and I don’t think that’s right. I’m going to do what I can to prevent it.”
If Gov. Robert Ehrlich signs the bill into law, Dwyer needs 51,185 signatures from valid registered voters in Maryland by June 30 to place a referendum on the 2006 ballot.
A referendum is necessary, Dwyer said, because even if Ehrlich vetoes the measure, the General Assembly is expected to override the veto when it re-convenes in January.
Ehrlich supports giving unmarried heterosexual couples the right to make medical decisions for each other, said spokesman Henry Fawell, but has not decided whether to sign the bill.
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, defended the bill he co-sponsored saying the late amendment garnered more Republican support by allaying fears that the measure was the start of a crusade for civil unions.
“It’s not legalizing (gay) marriage,” said Pinsky. “You’re voting on the legislation. You’re not voting on what comes next…
“The primary concept here was to allow a partner to make medical decisions. It wasn’t, ‘Let’s figure out a way to get some kind of registry in place.'”
And if lawmakers wanted to make gay marriage legal in the state, they would sponsor such a measure, said Sen. Sharon Grosfeld, D-Montgomery. Grosfeld did just that as a member of the House several years ago.
Dwyer is misjudging the character of Marylanders, Pinsky said, and he may be lonely in his cause.
“I think the people of this state will understand this for what it is,” Pinsky said, “not some ideological rant and homophobic action.”
The Maryland General Assembly did directly address the issue of homosexuality in its approval of the Hate Crimes Penalties Act, which also is awaiting Ehrlich’s signature. That bill adds “sexual orientation” to the list of classes of citizens with special hate crimes protection.
Capital News Service reporter Sarah Abruzzese contributed to this report.