Obscure Regulation Is the Next Act in Same-Sex Marriage Drama

Del. Michael Smigiel (R), shown in 2002, called the regulation defining domestic partnerships
Del. Michael Smigiel (R), shown in 2002, called the regulation defining domestic partnerships "a purely political move" by Democrats. (By Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)
By Annapolis Notebook
Sunday, December 9, 2007

A little-noticed regulation defining domestic partnerships in state law looks like it could be the opening act for the General Assembly's upcoming debate over same-sex marriage.

The regulation was released by the Maryland Insurance Administration last week in time for a new law on health insurance coverage to take effect Jan. 1. The law, passed in the final hours of the legislature's winter session, requires health insurers to offer coverage to domestic partners if employers ask for it.

The measure handily passed the House of Delegates. But to overcome resistance in the more conservative state Senate, its sponsors stripped out the definition of domestic partners and left it to the insurance administration, whose commissioner is a close ally of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), to come up with language in a regulation.

The definition has incensed some Republicans. Domestic partners can be straight or gay and must be living together and in a "committed relationship of mutual interdependence" for at least six consecutive months, says the proposed regulation. The couple can verify their union with three documents, choosing from among other items a will, a joint bank account and a driver's license listing a common address.

Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Cecil County) called the regulation's issuance "a purely political move" by Democrats in Annapolis to lay the groundwork to legalize same-sex marriage when the legislature convenes for its 90-day session next month.

Advocates plan to push a same-sex marriage bill after losing their bid in the state's highest court this fall, and opponents plan to fight back with an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.

"This is an important area of public policy," Smigiel said, "and we've begun to legislate through executive orders and regulation. . . . Due diligence should take place."

But Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), an advocate for same-sex marriage who sponsored the insurance measure, said the regulation is only reflecting what's in the new law.

At Smigiel's request, a joint House-Senate committee that oversees regulations will hold a hearing on the matter Thursday. As an emergency measure, it needs a committee vote to take effect before Jan. 1. "It's a progressive reform," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George's), the committee's Senate chairman.

-- Lisa Rein

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