Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Maryland Morass

Aside from my aforementioned busy weekend, part of the reason that I haven't commented on the whole issue in Maryland is because I've been interested in seeing how things will shake out first before I go on the tear of calling Governor Robert Ehrlich "Hitler" and suggesting that his family be stalked. It also took a while to find a copy of the text of the Maryland law for review.

After reviewing, even though this may be an unpopular position....the Maryland bill really stinks.

First off, despite the attempts to paint it as merely a "registry", the bill leaves no doubt that its sole goal is to establish the legal status of "life partner". That in and of itself would likely put it into conflict with the existing Maryland statute that defines marriage, since the bill amends several existing statutes that delineate on the basis of priority to say "spouse OR life partner".

Second off, the bill establishes the status of "life partner" for BOTH same-sex and opposite-sex couples, despite the fact that opposite-sex couples are perfectly free to marry in Maryland, and as such, receive all the benefits and privileges of marriage that a "life partnership" would grant. Why on earth, then, is a "life partner" registry necessary for OPPOSITE-sex couples? Perhaps Maryland legislators were thinking of California's far-superior domestic partnership law, which does allow for opposite-sex domestic partnerships; however, what they apparently forgot is that California's law specifically precludes opposite-sex domestic partnerships unless one or more of the participants is over the age of 62. Very sloppy. In addition, taken in combination with the first point, this gives a degree of credulity to the right-wing claim that this bill are an attempt to undermine traditional marriage (since it applies to opposite-sex couples) and give gay marriage in all but name.

Finally, the Maryland law is almost jaw-droppingly careless when it comes to issues around property. It specifically requires that individuals a) share a common residence (although it does not require that they both have claim to ownership) and b) agree to be in a relationship of "mutual interdependence", meaning that each life partner "contributes to the maintenance and support of the other life partner and the relationship" (although it's not required to be equal). Furthermore, this relationship is linked to an even greater degree to property by its association with the bill exempting property transfers between domestic partners. All of these create numerous implicit claims to real property ownership.

So where's the section on how things that were purchased as part of "maintenance and support" are to be managed in the event of a dissolution of the "life partnership"? The law is vague even on who has the right to initiate a dissolution, much less for what reasons, has no apparent method for contesting an attempted dissolution, and says nothing about property dispensation, despite creating all sorts of potential tangles to it. Again, referring to California, the law spells out specifically how these sort of issues are to be handled, logically under the same rules as already exist for heterosexual divorce. The Maryland statute lacks any of this -- presumably because tying it to the Maryland divorce code would make it blatantly obvious that it is not merely related to medical rights.

In summary, this is a half-assed attempt at pandering that would create more legal trouble than it's worth. The rights involved are wonderful and definitely needed by gay couples, but this is NOT the way to manage it. Either push for civil unions and deal with the property rights issues directly, or push for greater legal acceptance of granting and broadening of durable powers of attorney and dispensation to non-blood-relative individuals. The latter is more inconvenient than a central registry, but it doesn't conflict as blatantly with existing marriage laws, doesn't create implicit property rights, and will garner far more straight allies, especially in the post-Schiavo era, than an attempt to covertly impose "gay marriage".

In short, I don't like the fact that Ehrlich vetoed this bill. However, I dislike even more the fact that he was given such a lousy bill to sign. The gay community can and must do better than this, or we're going to find ourselves creating legal quagmires that we will have to sue ourselves out of -- possibly at the risk of invalidating the laws themselves.

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