A Montgomery County bill that would extend benefits to the gay and lesbian partners of county government employees has touched off a flurry of debate, with the latest entrant into the fray being the county's Republican Party.

The county's GOP Central Committee adopted a resolution on Tuesday night opposing the proposed domestic-partner legislation. Members issued a statement expressing concern that the proposal sends a "message that homosexual behavior is a valid 'alternative lifestyle.' "

"People feel there are certain benefits that accrue to being married," Robert J. Miller, the Central Committee chairman, said yesterday. He added that the party's position is "a defense of marriage. It's not an attack on gay people."

The county's Democratic Party has not taken a stance on the legislation. But the GOP's action took place about the same time that about 100 people attended a public hearing on the issue in the County Council chamber.

Supporters said that the measure extends long-delayed rights to people who have been targets of discrimination and who cannot legally get married.

"The movement for domestic partnership benefits is rooted in the democratic notion of equal pay for equal work," said Betsy Gressler, a Silver Spring resident and deputy political director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who testified before the council Tuesday night.

Gino Renne, president of a labor union representing 4,500 county workers, testified that the bill "recognizes that making a range of employee benefits available to one group of workers but not to another, based solely on sexual orientation, is discriminatory. We fully agree."

Many of the opponents, however, focused on issues of morality and argued that the council should not use taxpayer dollars to fund a bill they believe encourages homosexuality.

"We believe that homosexuality is illegal, immoral, unnatural and unhealthy. An abomination to God," Bunny S. Galladora, a Gaithersburg resident who testified before the council, said in an interview yesterday. Galladora, a spokeswoman for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Maryland, said extending benefits to homosexual partners would be tantamount to supporting illegal and sinful activity. "The county should just not be doing this."

Yesterday, County Council President Isiah Leggett (D-At Large) said he was circulating an amendment that would strike references to homosexuals in the bill and broaden it to include other domestic partners, including unmarried heterosexual couples.

Yet some opponents of the bill, including Miller, the GOP chairman, said they would oppose this revision as well.

Staff writer Scott Wilson contributed to this report.