By KATE ELIZABETH QUERAM, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS (March 18, 2008) - The Senate Tuesday passed a bill granting domestic partners the same medical visitation and decision-making rights as married couples, including riding with a loved one in an ambulance or granting permission to have someone moved to a different health care facility.
A similar bill passed the General Assembly in 2005 but was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert Ehrlich.
Arguments against the bill came mostly from Republicans.
"This is not about you. This is not about me. This is about the future of our children," said Sen. Janet Greenip, R-Anne Arundel, prior to the vote.
Greenip said that passage of the bill would give 18-year-olds in "casually committed relationships" the same rights as married couples, and would encourage cohabitation as an alternative to marriage.
People can make their own decisions, but if the state is going to encourage anything, it should be marriage - not cohabitation, Greenip said.
But Sen. Robert Garagiola, D-Montgomery, the bill's main sponsor, said the legislation is more about companionship than marriage versus cohabitation.
"I guess I would frame it differently," he said. "When someone is hurt ... in a time of a lot of stress and anxiety, to not allow their loved one to be with them at this time in their life is unjust and unfair."
Other supporters of the bill, including Minority Whip Allan H. Kittleman, R-Howard, responded that beyond the homosexual marriage issue, the legislation would give rights to heterosexuals in long-term relationships.
"I rise in support of this bill, and it's not an easy thing for me to do," Kittleman said. "But it's not simply a homosexual question, folks."
Kittleman argued that unmarried heterosexual couples in long-term relationships should be granted the rights given to married couples because some may have extenuating circumstances that keep them from marrying.
He related an anecdote about a woman who lost her husband in the Oklahoma City bombing and has since entered into a new relationship, but can't remarry because she will lose her husband's health benefits.
She would want her current partner to be able to make medical decisions on her behalf, he said.
"It gives a right to folks who may not agree with me on issues of marriage - but it's about giving them that right," he said.
The bill passed 30 to 17. Similar legislation has been enacted in other states, including Connecticut and New Jersey. A companion House bill has been heard in committee, but hasn't been voted on, yet.
After the vote, Sen. Alex Mooney, R-Frederick, rose to explain his "no" vote.
"How do we get to the point where marriage is no longer held up and protected by the constitution? It's because bills like this creep up and chip away at it," he said. "This is for homosexual people, they're the ones pushing this bill ... this is a bad bill, and I think we're heading in the wrong direction."