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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 22, 2005

Domestic partner and hate crime bills pass in Maryland

Annapolis, Md.--A trio of pro-gay bills has passed the legislature, but their fate is still unclear.

Two of the bills in the session, which ended April 12, create a partner registry giving limited rights to same- or opposite-sex couples who sign up. One of the bills grants the power to make medical decisions, the other allows the transfer of property without tax, both of which are granted automatically with marriage.

The third bill adds sexuality and gender identity to the state�s hate crime law.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has until May 12 to sign or veto the bills. If he takes no action on them in that time, they will automatically become law.

Ehrlich, a Republican, has made no indication of his intentions regarding the bills.

However, Delegate Donald Dwyer, a far-right legislator, has said he will launch a referendum drive even if the governor vetoes the legislation.

Dwyer is planning to mobilize a coalition of clergy to gather the signatures.

�It�s not necessarily a political party issue as much as a grassroots groundswell of people who don�t want to see marriage redefined,� said House of Delegates Republican whip Anthony O�Donnell.

�It�s to be expected,� said Del. Richard Madaleno, an openly gay Democrat. �The extremists on the other side will stop at nothing to deprive gay families in this state of dignity and privacy.�

�We�ll see the battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party over the next weeks,� Madaleno concluded.

�I believe this legislation tears at the fabric of family as God ordained family,� said Rev. Richard Bowers of Defend Maryland Marriage, who believes that, while the bills are �masked in compassion,� they �really are all about same-sex marriage in Maryland.�

However, cooler heads disagree.

�This bill protects couples when they�re most vulnerable,� said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese.

Equality Maryland executive director Dan Furmansky agrees.

�The number of stories of individuals who could not be with their partners during times of sickness, childbirth and surgery is appalling,� he said. �The Medical Decision Making Act will offer peace of mind to more than 110,000 unmarried couples in Maryland at the most critical times in life, as well as after the death of a loved one.�

Maryland added �sexual orientation� to its civil rights law in 2001. A referendum campaign on that measure failed when petition signature fraud was revealed.

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