A limited partnership

Our view : Partners of state employees deserve health coverage, too

May 06, 2008

Smart employers know that offering good salaries and perks will help attract the best and brightest employees. That's why a growing number, including a majority of Fortune 500 companies, are choosing to extend health insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners. It's a logical step for companies that genuinely seek to end workplace discrimination.

The public sector is moving to do the same, which makes it all the more unfortunate that Gov. Martin O'Malley has not chosen to provide such a benefit to state employees. As Baltimore's mayor, he did it for city workers. At least 15 states, including Maine, Arizona and Montana, provide coverage, too, as do Maryland's Howard and Montgomery counties, several school systems and a host of smaller Maryland municipalities.

Gay rights advocates say they think Mr. O'Malley is simply running scared. The suspicion is that the governor, whose popularity dropped after last year's tax package was approved, is not interested in getting bashed by partisan critics as someone who raised taxes to make sure gays have better health insurance.

But Mr. O'Malley's aides say the governor supports the change and circumstances, not politics, have caused the delay. Last year, many expected the Court of Appeals to rule in favor of gay marriage, making the point moot; it didn't. More recently, there was the possibility that legalizing civil unions might do the same, but proposed legislation didn't get very far. There's also the matter of cost - at least $3 million that hasn't been budgeted.

Whatever the motivation, there's no reason that the state can't commit immediately to a policy change. It's a matter of basic fairness - providing equal pay (and benefits) for equal work. That's not showing favoritism to any group; it's reducing discrimination in the workplace. And that's a goal a majority of Maryland voters will reliably support.

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