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

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

Ups, Downs for Top Women

A new study says women occupy 27 percent of the top posts in Maryland state government, compared with an average of 31 percent nationwide.

Virginia beats out Maryland, with women making up 36 percent of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's Cabinet.

In "Unlocking the Cabinet: Where Women Stand in State Cabinets and Where We Need Them To Go," the Women's Campaign Forum Foundation concludes, predictably, that governors need to appoint more women to top jobs.

Women "add a unique value as public office holders," the study says, with different leadership styles than men that include a "broader, more-inclusive" approach to policymaking. The study by the Washington-based nonprofit group laments that women are overrepresented in "traditional women's fields" of human services, education, labor and health.

That's not always the case in Maryland, though, where Gov. Martin O'Malley has appointed a female budget and management secretary, chief legal counsel, aging, human services and environment secretaries among dozens of other posts.

"Obviously, a diverse Cabinet is very important to the governor," spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said. He said the study might not have counted all of the top positions in state government, some of which are not technically Cabinet secretaries but have a lot of power.

The top state for female appointees is Washington, where 52 percent of the governor's top staff are women, followed by New York, at 50 percent. North Carolina came in last, with just 20 percent. The District wasn't surveyed.

The good news for Maryland is that women are doing great compared with 10 years ago, when they held just 18 percent of state Cabinet posts. Virginia, though, is doing worse: 43 percent of the governor's top appointments in 1997 were women.

-- Lisa Rein

Area Politicians Stumping for Clinton

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) is spending her weekend in Iowa, stumping for her favorite presidential candidate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Mikulski is a national chair of Clinton's campaign.

The trip to the first caucus state is Mikulski's second this year, an aide said. Mikulski's itinerary includes several public events, including the AFSCME Iowa Council 61 "Labor Women for Hillary Clinton Breakfast" in Des Moines yesterday, where she is billed as a "special guest."

Both Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) have also made trips to early nominating states on Clinton's behalf. Brown was also back in Iowa yesterday.

-- John Wagner

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