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Quick and Dirty

What a Difference a Year Makes

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 4/20/2005

Two bills championed by Maryland gay-rights advocates that floundered last legislative session passed this year, despite—or perhaps because of—a strong anti-gay presence in Annapolis. The Hate Crimes Penalties Act, which would classify violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation as a hate crime and creates stiffer penalties for those acts, and the Medical Decision Making Act, which would allow unmarried couples who have registered as domestic partners to make medical decisions for one another, passed in both houses this year after dying in the Senate a year ago. A third bill that would allow unmarried couples to add and subtract each other from the deeds to their homes without paying additional taxes (an exemption that already exists for married couples) also passed. Now all three measures await the governor’s signature.

“We’re so happy that we were able to pass some bills that will confer important protections for the community,” says Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy group.

These strides are particularly impressive because of formidable opposition from several legislators, the most prominent of whom, Del. Don Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel County), leads a group called Defend Maryland Marriage. The group is fighting against what it calls the “homosexual agenda.”

Furmansky feels the bills passed for a number of reasons, one of which may be Dwyer himself.

“I think that the recipe to legislative success involves a lot of ingredients,” Furmansky says. “Some of it is tenacity. Certainly we as a lobbying organization have been in Annapolis year after year after year. . . . We have good lobbyists and we have a strong membership across the entire state that takes action with their legislators and insures that their legislators are hearing from them. . . . I think that an incredible number of legislators are turned off by Don Dwyer and his fiery anti-gay rhetoric.”

Still, there is no guarantee these bills will become law. On April 12, Dwyer filed a petition with the State Board of Elections to put the Medical Decision Making Act up for voter referendum in 2006. Dwyer will need to get more than 50,000 signatures by June 30 for this to be a possibility. It is also possible that Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, will veto the bills. Only the Hate Crimes Act passed with the necessary three-fifths majority in each house to defeat a veto, and so far Ehrlich has kept quiet about whether or not he plans to sign the bills.

“I think that it’s unfortunate that the governor hasn’t already taken a position in favor of all three bills which stand alone on their policy merits,” Furmansky says. “This is an opportunity for the governor to show himself as the leader of the Republican Party, but so far all we can hear is the blaring voice of Don Dwyer.”

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