Keeping options open on legal protections for same-sex couples

Thursday, January 21, 2010

GAY RIGHTS organizations across the country hailed the District's recent decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Among them was Equality Maryland, the state's leading gay rights organization, which celebrated what it called the "historic vote" in the District.

Justice and simple decency require that same-sex couples be afforded the same legal protections and benefits of marriage that are now, with a few exceptions, reserved for heterosexual couples. Equality Maryland is right to want the same benefits and protections for gays and lesbians that their neighbors in the District enjoy -- and it is right to want them now.

But the group and its lawmaker allies are short-sighted to refuse to consider -- let alone accept -- anything short of full marriage equality. The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which would legalize same-sex marriage in the state and was voted down each of the past two years, is likely to be reintroduced during the current Maryland legislative session and suffer the same fate.

Lawmakers who back this provision should at least consider whether domestic partnerships or civil unions might stand a better chance of passage. These alternatives are not perfect, nor should they be considered permanent substitutes for full marriage rights. But they would provide more protections for same-sex couples than are currently available, including broader rights involving financial and medical matters.

Progress does not always come slowly, and Maryland may well be able to piggyback on the District's success. But it should not take this for granted. It should not reject more modest steps that nevertheless represent important protections for the state's gay families.

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