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May 2, 2005

Oxymoronic Tactics

John W. Ashbury

When the General Assembly passed legislation at the end of the General Assembly session granting unmarried couples the right to make medical decisions for their "partners," and to make funeral arrangements as well, it was applauded by most Marylanders.

They understood that the love and comfort of a loved one at the time of a medical emergency is of great assistance in the recovery process - even having medical benefits beyond what doctors and nurses can provide.

This particular bill provides that couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, can sign up on a state-run Domestic Partners Registry which thus grants them the rights specified in the legislation.

It's about time. And to those who object, saying it is giving "special rights" to gays and lesbians and furthers "the radical homosexual agenda," I have but one question: Where's your humanity and your concern for all God's children?

In the recent past right here in Frederick, one partner in a gay relationship had a serious medical emergency. Despite the fact that both partners had given the other a power of attorney to make medical decision for the other, Frederick Memorial Hospital rejected that legal document and would not even allow visitation into the sick room.

It is cases like this that led to the state law now sitting on Gov. Robert Ehrlich's desk awaiting his signature. But a battle looms whether the governor signs the bill, or simply allows it to become law with his autograph at the end of May, or vetoes it.

Del. Donald H. Dwyer is spearheading a petition drive to take the measure to referendum should it become law. He and his associates must collect 51,195 verifiable signatures from registered voters across the state to have the bill put on the 2006 ballot. And they have to do it by June 30 of this year. Another obstacle is the rule that says no more than half the signatures can come from one county or Baltimore City.

It is likely that Delegate Dwyer and his associates will get the required signatures. But court challenges are expected immediately after verification is confirmed.

History tells us, however, that Dwyer's efforts are likely to fail. Since 1991 only one measure has made it to the ballot and voters rejected the repeal of that law.

What is most difficult to understand is the involvement of the Christian Coalition in the petition drive. It seems almost oxymoronic for a group that labels itself as Christian to object to a law that brings aid and comfort to someone - anyone - in ill health.

And the opposition based on the claim of advancement of the "radical homosexual agenda" is even more ludicrous. The bill has a clause, inserted at the last minute, that reiterates an earlier Maryland law which states that marriage is between one man and one woman.

There is no doubt that all of us know at least one heterosexual couple who lives together without the bonds of marriage for any number of reasons. The reasons for such a relationship run the gamut; from alimony that would be lost should the party marry; to the protection of one's estate for one's natural born children; to simply having a profound abhorrence to matrimony after a particularly nasty divorce.

And in many cases of domestic partners, physical sex is not a part of it. This may even be true mores so in heterosexual partnerships than in gay relationships. So the claim that this is a gay rights bill doesn't hold water.

The Christian Coalition and other anti-gay groups have a perfect right to their opinions. But the tactics make little or no sense.

Among the tactics these groups have used in the past included staying home from the polls as a protest.

What are they thinking?

In Maryland such a protest could lead to the defeat of Governor Ehrlich. Do those people who object to this bill, and others they claim give special rights to gays and lesbians, really think they will get a better deal from those who oppose the governor?

Isn't it a more likely scenario that a Democratic governor would push an agenda that grants additional "rights" to gays and lesbians? And even if he doesn't, won't legislative leaders, needing votes from more liberal legislators on other matters, allow such measures to reach the floor of both chambers?

But the real bugaboo for me is that these people who claim to be Christian are so adamantly opposed to the granting of the benefits of their religion to those in need. When anyone is sick, the doctor doesn't ask if the person is gay. There is only the matter of medical attention as quickly as is needed.

Who does it hurt if we allow a gay man to make a medical decision for his partner? It most certainly isn't a threat to my marriage. And I fail to see any threat to that institution either.

Frequently, if present law holds, the doctor or hospital must await the arrival of the "next of kin" before proceeding with treatment. In medical emergencies, time is of the essence. Delay can cause serious additional injury, or, in the worse case, death.

And while members of The Christian Coalition denounce homosexuals, and pronounce that they are condemned to the "fires of Hell," it is hard to believe they would deny gays and lesbians medical treatment that could save their lives. If they did it would belie their faith.

If Governor Ehrlich is torn on this issue he should allow it to become law without his signature. I, for one, will not support his challengers in next year gubernatorial election based solely on what he does with this bill.

He has clearly shown to me through his visit with a dying Bill Lee at his home in Frederick nearly two years ago, that he has the principles of Christianity in his heart.

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