Maryland legislation promising new protections for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community will become law next month without Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature, according to aides from the governor’s office.
One of the proposals requires health insurers to offer fertility treatments as a benefit regardless of a person’s sexual orientation, while the other allows transgender residents to change the gender on their birth certificates.
The House and Senate approved the legislation by wide margins earlier this year, and the LGBT community was watching carefully to see what Hogan (R) would do. Equality Maryland, one of the state’s leading gay rights advocates, named the proposals among its top legislative priorities.
Hogan has until June 3 to either sign or veto the measures before they become law by default. His office said Friday that he has decided to do nothing, allowing the measures to take effect without his explicit approval.
“We’re really happy,” Equality Maryland executive director Carrie Evans said. “These are bills that we worked very hard on, and they had bipartisan support in the General Assembly.”
The decision provides one of the earliest indications of how Maryland’s new governor will approach social issues, suggesting he has little appetite for stirring up controversy over such matters.
Before Hogan’s surprise victory over former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) in the 2014 election, the businessman-turned-politician focused his campaign largely on pocketbook issues, especially taxes and economic growth. He called for “tolerance and respect” during his inauguration speech, and after nearly five months in office, he has neither taken up progressive causes nor pushed for policies that would satisfy social conservatives.
“We’re opposed to discrimination — all forms of discrimination,” Hogan spokesman Matt Clark said Friday regarding the governor’s position.
Using that simplified approach, Hogan has avoided the kind of social-issues debates that have tripped up many Republicans nationally, including Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who signed a religious-liberty bill last month that critics fear will allow businesses to discriminate against the LGBT community, and former congressman William Todd Akin of Missouri, an outspoken opponent of abortion who lost a 2012 Senate race after commenting that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy.
“It seems like he doesn’t come in with a very entrenched opinion on social issues and that he really is looking at each bill individually,” Evans said of Hogan. “With a lot of the measures we’re supporting that don’t cost money, I think he’s going to support them. I think he’ll continue with a sort of fiscal-economic lens, and if we put forward something that would cost the state millions of dollars, he probably wouldn’t support it then.”
Nonetheless, LGBT advocates grew concerned about a potential veto of the fertility treatment legislation after Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) warned in an April letter to Hogan that the plan might inadvertently discriminate against straight couples.
Frosh said at the time that the proposal could violate the federal Affordable Care Act’s ban on treating patients differently based on their sexual orientation by allowing lesbian couples to use donor sperm for in-vitro fertilization while continuing a requirement that heterosexual couples use only the husband’s sperm. He clarified in a follow-up letter that he supported the legislation and that the General Assembly could address any resulting disparity in the treatment of straight and lesbian couples during the next session.
Hogan apparently agreed, based on his decision to allow the proposal to become law.
As it stands, Maryland’s LGBT protections are among the most robust in the country, with same-sex marriage being legal since 2012, and more transgender provisions on the books than ever before.
Hogan has shown little desire to tinker with the policies.
“So far, our record has been to uphold the laws that are already in effect, and the governor has no interest in rewriting any of them,” Clark said. “It’s our intention to uphold and enforce those laws.”
Nonetheless, Hogan’s inaugural year has been marked by some hiccups on the LGBT front.
For example, a brief controversy arose over the governor’s first executive order, which advised executive-branch employees not to discriminate against Marylanders based on age, gender, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation when it comes to state laws and regulations. LGBT advocates complained that the order did not cover marital status and gender identity. The governor eventually added language to address their concerns.
Another brief controversy arose in January after Hogan delayed regulations from the previous administration, including one that would have barred state Medicaid providers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Some LGBT advocates suspected that the move was an attempt to withdraw the guideline, but Hogan insisted that he just wanted to review all of the rules that his predecessor, Martin O’Malley (D), pushed through late in his final year as governor.
“We didn’t have, in the middle of the transition, time to do a full analysis on every regulation, so timing dictated that we stop those regulations from being published to review them and fully understand their implications,” Clark said.
Hogan green-lighted the anti-discrimination rule about a week after pulling the new regulations for examination.