Ehrlich Vetoes Bill Extending Rights to Gay Couples

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said the measure concerning gay couples would
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said the measure concerning gay couples would "open the door to undermine the sanctity of traditional marriage." (By Chris Gardner -- Associated Press)
By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 21, 2005

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed a bill yesterday that would have granted rights to gay partners who register with the state, concluding after weeks of intense deliberations that the legislation threatened "the sanctity of traditional marriage."

The emotionally charged bill was among 24 that Ehrlich (R) rejected yesterday afternoon, including legislation to raise the state's minimum wage by $1, allow early voting in elections and heighten oversight of the state's troubled juvenile justice system. Another measure sought by gay rights activists that would have extended a property transfer tax exemption to domestic partners was also scuttled.

Ehrlich's decision to side, almost without exception, with business interests and social conservatives surprised some analysts, who thought he might try to burnish his credentials as a moderate by allowing some of the session's more controversial bills to become law.

Most of the legislation vetoed yesterday had been strongly opposed by Republican lawmakers. But Ehrlich's appeal to swing voters was key to his 2002 election in a state where registered Democrats still hold a nearly 2-to-1 advantage.

"I think it's just breathtaking that he's casting his lot with the right wing of his party," said Tom Hucker, executive director of Progressive Maryland, an advocacy group that pushed for the minimum wage bill as well as legislation Ehrlich vetoed Thursday that would have effectively required Wal-Mart to spend more on employee health benefits. "He ran for governor as the moderate, affable son of an automobile dealer who would stick up for working-class families."

Ehrlich said in a statement that his office's review of the bills had been "both thoughtful and deliberative" and that he was "confident that decisions made today are in the best interest of good policy, sound government and fiscal responsibility for Maryland's citizens."

In recent weeks, he has signed hundreds of bills passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature. And aides said that next week, Ehrlich plans to sign a measure that would add sexual orientation as a protected class under Maryland's hate crimes law -- a move opposed by most in his party.

But it was Ehrlich's decision to veto the bill conferring rights on gay couples that attracted most attention yesterday.

A leading Republican lawmaker praised him for making "a principled decision."

"I know the governor wrestled with this decision because he may be sympathetic to some of the intentions," said House Minority Whip Anthony J. O'Donnell (R-Calvert). "But sometimes bad laws are the result of good intentions."

Modeled after laws in California, Hawaii and other states, the legislation would have granted nearly a dozen rights to unmarried partners who register with the state. Among those: the right to be treated as an immediate family member during hospital visits, to make health care decisions for incapacitated partners and to have private visits in nursing homes.

In his veto message, Ehrlich said he is "sympathetic to the needs of mutually dependent couples and [wants] to support compassionate efforts to expedite health-related decisions for Marylanders in need."

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