Good news for Maryland justice seekers: The state senate today approved a measure that would allow same-sex couples to have the power to make decisions for each other. No, the landmark Medical Decision Making Act does not confer equality onto GLBT couples, but it would add provisions to the state’s health code and set up a registry allowing queer couples a few basic rights, including the right to visit a partner or partner’s child in a health-care facility and the ability to make health-care decisions for a partner.
The bill has come close to passage before. In 2004, the legislation passed the Maryland House, but it fell short by one vote in the Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee.
The Baltimore Sun says the constant coverage of the Terri Schiavo case may have affected lawmakers considering the controversial measure this year.
The Medical Decision Making Act of 2005 has grabbed extra attention in Annapolis given the dispute over Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose case has prompted a national debate over issues such as the role one person should play in another’s medical care.
“This is about really reaffirming the rights of a person to designate who they feel would be best to carry out their wishes,” said Kelber-Kaye, 40, who lives in Baltimore with her partner of 12 years and their two sons, ages 6 and 1.
“When you’re worried about somebody who is ill and you want to be there for support, the last thing you need is to be fighting with a nurse just to be in the room,” she said.
While the measure has been driven by the gay and lesbian rights community for the past two years, the bill applies to homosexual and heterosexual couples who consider themselves “life partners.”…
Eligible couples would have to be at least 18, not related and living together. Couples could not be married or members of a civil union or domestic partnership and would have to be dependent on each other.
In addition to medical decision-making and hospital visitation rights, the bill would allow partners to ride in ambulances together, share rooms in a nursing home, conduct private visits in a nursing home and make decisions related to the disposition of a partner upon death.
Advocates say that only some of these benefits can be conveyed through a will, power of attorney or other legal documents. They argue further that they shouldn’t have to be rummaging through papers in times of emergency or death.
Kelber-Kaye and her partner, Stacey Kargman Kaye, 37, have had two emergency hospital situations during which they were temporarily denied access to each other. They are tired of having to explain themselves, their life decisions and their family configuration.
“We’ve chosen to spend our lives together, and we take responsibility for each other in every other way,” Kargman Kaye said. “We are a family, and we want to be treated that way.”
The Senate win moves the lesgislation to the House of Delegates, where the chance for passage appears strong. A huge obstacle exists, however, in the form of Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich, who is known for his virulent opposition to equality and justice for GLBT people. If the measure does win House passage, it will be interesting to see whether the GOP gov is willing to sign the bill into law. If he doesn’t, I recommend that justice-seeking Marylanders take their anger directly to the ogreish Bobby Smooth — because they will then have incontrovertible proof that their governor doesn’t care about all of his constituents.