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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)

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He said, however, that the bill's requirement that couples register as life partners "will open the door to undermine the sanctity of traditional marriage."

Ehrlich suggested that most goals of the legislation could be accomplished with existing legal tools, such as advance medical directives, which allow residents to designate someone to make health care decisions for them.

Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, a gay rights group that lobbied for the legislation, said that the bill had nothing to do with marriage and that some of the rights could not be secured under existing law.

"Phone calls are pouring into our office from people across the state who are shocked, hurt and dismayed at how such a moderate piece of legislation conferring basic human rights could be rejected by a supposedly moderate governor," Furmansky said.

A woman who could have benefited from the bill, Stacey Kargman-Kaye of Baltimore, said yesterday that she was heartbroken. "I don't understand how a human being who has a significant other and children could not see the need for this," she said.

Kargman-Kaye, 37, said that after she emerged from heart surgery five years ago, a nurse literally pushed away her longtime partner, who was there to support her, "because we're not considered a family in the eyes of Maryland."

A group of conservative activists had launched a petition drive in recent weeks that sought to repeal the bill if it became law. They argued that it was part of a "homosexual agenda" advancing in Annapolis. Maryland allows residents to put legislation passed by the General Assembly to a public vote if enough signatures are gathered.

Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. (R-Anne Arundel), a leader of the petition drive, said organizers would soon decide whether to continue, in case lawmakers override Ehrlich's veto in January. Dwyer said he was "very pleased that the governor has sent a strong message about the morality of the state."

Leading members of both parties predicted that supporters would likely struggle to find the three-fifths vote needed to override Ehrlich, especially at the beginning of an election year. "It would put a spotlight on some people who may not want to be spotlighted," O'Donnell said.

Ehrlich's 24 vetoes yesterday followed a public ceremony Thursday to veto the high-profile bill that would have effectively forced retailing giant Wal-Mart to spend more on employee health benefits.

Ehrlich also sided with business interests in rejecting a bill yesterday that would have raised the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour, $1 above the federal minimum.

In his veto message, Ehrlich said "employers have few options to recover the increased costs imposed by government. They can either pass along these costs to consumers or they can cut their costs by firing their employees."

Ehrlich also vetoed a bill that would have created a legislative oversight committee for the state's troubled Department of Juvenile Services, which oversees youths in the criminal justice system. It was one of several bills he has vetoed that would curb his powers.

Ehrlich's vetoes, embraced by his GOP base, were providing fodder for the leading Democratic contenders in the 2006 governor's race.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley called Ehrlich's actions "the Friday afternoon massacre." Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan also took aim at Ehrlich's veto of a bill that would have allowed Montgomery County police to use speed cameras.

Staff writer David Snyder contributed to this report.

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