Fight persists on medical decisions

Dwyer wants referendum on couples-registry bill

April 13, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN STAFF

In yet another attempt to kill legislation to give unmarried couples medical decision-making rights, Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. took the unusual preliminary step yesterday of trying to repeal the measure through a voter referendum.

Dwyer, an Anne Arundel County Republican, said he filed petition requests with the Maryland State Board of Elections and attorney general's office. "I'm prepared to fight this every step of the way," said Dwyer of the bill, which would be effective July 1.

Under Maryland election law, Dwyer would need to collect 51,195 signatures by June 30 of this year to get the question on the 2006 ballot, said Donna Duncan, director of the election management division of the Board of Elections.

No more than one-half of the signatures can come from one county or Baltimore City, and one-third must be filed by May 31.

A successful petition drive would suspend the law until after the 2006 general election, when voters would decide the issue.

The Medical Decision Making Act would create a registry of domestic partners, straight and gay. Couples who register would receive certificates giving them the right to make medical decisions for each other, visit each other in the hospital and oversee funeral arrangements, among other benefits.

Despite staunch opposition to the measure, the bill passed the legislature on the last day of the session, although it was amended to specify that it was not rejecting the concept that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has not said whether he would sign the bill. In recent days, he has said he supports elements of the legislation but wants to ensure it does not undermine the traditional definition of marriage.

Supporters of the bill said Dwyer's actions put pressure on Ehrlich.

"I think we'll see over the next few weeks who the leader in the Republican Party is in the state of Maryland - Bob Ehrlich or Don Dwyer," said Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat who, during debate on the bill, spoke about how its passage would benefit him and his partner. "This is the battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party."

Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, a statewide gay-rights advocacy group that made passage of the bill a top legislative priority, said he believes that even if the question made it onto a referendum it wouldn't pass.

"I can't imagine that people would object to everyone having autonomy over who makes medical decisions for them," said Furmansky. "This certainly points to the fact that radical conservative forces will stop at nothing."

Dwyer predicted that he would collect the needed signatures easily. He said he expects receive help from churches and other organizations, such as the Family Protection Lobby.

"By that bill passing, they're saying anybody can assume the posture of marriage by living together and being in the same house," said Douglas Stiegler, executive director of the Family Protection Lobby. "What we're saying is, if you have anything that looks like a counterfeit, it makes the real thing less valuable."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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