The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

The Littlest Signer

Maryland has taken two baby-steps towards equality.

Marland Bill Signings

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed two bills to bring some of the rights married couples have to unmarried couples — including gay couples — along with measures related to health and support for Maryland veterans.

O’Malley, who supports creating a civil unions law that has yet to find enough support in the Maryland General Assembly, said he believed the bills help address “inequities and unfairness” against committed couples who are not married, including gay couples.

“Without the ability to have the legal protections that say, a civil unions statute would give, then these other bills, will, I suspect, continue to come through the legislature and continue to be approved by the legislature …” O’Malley said.

One of the bills allows unmarried couples more rights to make about a dozen medical decisions for each other, if they meet certain criteria to show they are a committed couple. For example, they would have to show joint checking accounts or joint property ownership to qualify.

The other bill exempts domestic partners from paying property transfer taxes when one person dies.

California gets marriage, and we get … well, … slightly more than we had before.

The picture was too cute to pass up, once I heard the story behind it. The little girl in the picture is the daughter of my state senator, Rich Madaleno (a fantastic and very helpful state senator, by the way). She and Parker had lots of fun playing in the Senator’s office, when we went to Annapolis for Equality Maryland’s Lobby Day in February. We told Parker we were going to ask the “people who make the rules” to change them so that Daddy and Papa can get married. Sometimes he still asks if they’ve “changed the rules” yet. I still have to tell him no.

From what I gather, after the governor signed the bills, Madaleno’s daughter wanted to add her signature. Well, who could deny that request.

Of course, as is always the case, anything that gives our families even a few of the benefits and protections of marriage stirs up opposition.

But the bills rankled opponents of gay marriage who believe legal marriage should only be recognized between a man and a woman.

Richard Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, criticized the governor’s decision to sign the bills. Dowling said the laws put Maryland “on the road to becoming California East,” referring to a state that started with similar bills and later expanded beyond health care and taxation.

Dowling also said the bills’ definition of domestic partnerships “not only gives same-sex and unmarried heterosexual couples a status equivalent to marriage, it also is so broad and ambiguous that it can be extended to the most casual of relationships.”

“This flies in the face of religious traditions that exalt marriage and regard it as sacramental,” Dowling said.

Maybe Mr. Dowling could explain to me why he doesn’t think I should have the right to see my husband in the hospital and make medical decision for him, or vice versa? (Not that I’d expect an answer, but I’d love to see him try. I’ve always said that if it’d been my black, gay ass lying in Terri Schiavo’s place, you can believe that Tom DeLay, Dubya & Co. wouldn’t have brought congressional business to s standstill to keep me alive.) My guess is that he’d say he doesn’t objcet to us visiting one another in the hospital. He objects to us having a right recognized by law.

The opposition will say that we can accomplish the same thing with advance directives and medical power of attorney. Well, we have those. But you can run in trouble if you don’t have your “papers” with you at all times, as with what happened to friend of ours.

Imagine for a moment that you’re at work, sitting at your desk as usual or going about your daily tasks when you get a phone call. It’s the call that just about everyone dreads. On the other end is a frantic voice telling you that something awful has happened. Your spouse, husband or wife, suddenly collapsed on the job and is being rushed to the hospital, unconscious.

Naturally, you drop everything and race out of the office to get to your love one’s side. Maybe you make it in time to accompany him or her in the ambulance. Finally, you get to the hospital and follow the EMTs in to the ER as they push the gurney down the hall. Your spouse is rushed into an examination room and while you wait outside you try get some information about what’s happening.

Then it happens. A member of hospital staff tells you that because you’re not next of kin they can’t give you any information. Why? Because you’re not married.

Well, it happened to friends of ours.

…My friend was at least able to go home and get the legal documents he needed, but I can only imagine what it must be like to have to do that, to be kept from my husband and then to have to leave the hospital in order to get legal documents, all the while not knowing what’s wrong, what’s happening to him, or if he’ll be alive when I get back. Even if we’re able to be together in the end, it’s because we’re allowed to be together.

Not because we have a right. But we’re “allowed” to be together. That’s something different from having a right to be together. The former may depend on nothing more than who’s in charge of the nurses station that day. The latter is enforceable and may even carry penalties for hospitals that do not recognize it. If you don’t have a right then you don’t have much at all that anyone need care about.

(By way of contrast, I don’t that story to the heterosexual couple down the street from us when they came over for dinner a while back. The wife told me a story about her husband being rushed to the emergency room for a health problem. When she arrived at the hospital, she said to the hospital personnel, “I’m his wife.” They said to her “Right this way.” No request for proof. No need to drive back home, retrieve the marriage license, drive back to the hospital, present it to hospital staff and have them recognize it before getting information about her husband’s condition or being allowed to see him. Wife? “Right this way.” Queer? “Show me your papers.”)

That’s the other thing about those “papers.” They can cost thousands of dollars in legal fees to get (as opposed to the $55 fee for a marriage license in my county), give you access to just two or three of the benefits and protections of marriage, and like I said before, there’s still no guarantee they’ll be recognized.

“A lot times when problems come up it is during an emergency where someone rushes to the hospital and may not have copies of the documents with them,” Senterfitt said. “It’s not only important to have them enacted, it’s important to have them with you when you need them.”

But even when you have the documents, there is no guarantee a hospital will follow your directives.

Just ask Bill Flanigan.

On October 16, 2000, on a cross-country trip to visit family, Bill Flanigan’s partner Robert Daniel was admitted to the University of Maryland Hospital’s Shock Trauma Center with a serious illness. Despite the fact that Flanigan and Daniel were registered as domestic partners in California and that Flanigan had with him a Power of Attorney to make health care decisions for Daniel, hospital personnel prevented Flanigan from seeing his partner. Hospital staff told Flanigan that only “family” members were permitted to visit and that “partners” did not qualify. Flanigan was unable to consult with doctors or to tell surgeons of Daniel’s wish to forego life-prolonging measures such as a breathing tube. Several hours later, when Flanigan was finally allowed to visit, Daniel was no longer conscious, his eyes were taped shut and doctors had inserted a breathing tube. Daniel never regained consciousness and died three days later. On behalf of Bill Flanigan, Lambda Legal unsuccessfully argued before a local jury that the hospital was liable for damages.

But there’s still more there than meets the eye. If we learned nothing else from similar battles in other states, it’s that the right will oppose anything that offers our family any kind of legal recognition or protection. Case in point, a Minnesota bill I mentioned earlier.

Being able to visit a loved one in a hospital is something many can take for granted. Gay partners say they can be denied access to their partners in critical situations.

A Senate committee will soon consider a new law that would guarantee that access at all hospitals.

“When someone takes their partner to the emergency room and they’re asked ‘what’s your relationship to this person?’ and they respond ‘I’m their partner’ and the nurse puts up her hand and says stop, your not family. You can’t go beyond this door,” said Ann DeGroot, who represents the gay rights group Out Front Minnesota.

Conservative groups are fighting the proposal. Their concern is not about visitation, but putting anything into law that acknowledges same sex partnerships.

“What we object to is the creation of these domestic partner statuses, which is really marriage by another name and that’s what we see they are attempting to do”, said Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council.

It’s a quote worthy of the Maryland Catholic Council. “We’re not opposed to them having visitation. We’re opposed to them having a legal right to visitation.” When decisions like the California Supreme Court ruling come own, the opposition start pointing to domestic partnership, civil unions, or reciprocal beneficiaries as alternatives. But, as I pointed out before, any newly-established legal status is vulnerable to being reduced in terms of benefits and protections. It’s happened in Michigan and Hawaii, and can happen any place were alternative legal status has been established and someone decides to take an eraser to it.

They will say they’re not oppose to us having any number of protections. But they are opposed to any legal recognition or our relationship, and any legislation that gives our families a legal right to any benefits and protections. In short, they are opposed to our families having the legal rights and protections of their own family.

I wonder how they’d explain that to a little girl who wanted to sign her name to a bill to protect her family. I wonder what they’d say to my son.

But, then again, I already know. I’m sure they’d find a way, but I just wonder how anyone tells a child that they’re family isn’t as good as everyone else’s.

One Comment

  1. You know, it’s very nice that O’Malley is trying to address some of the inequities, but (even I lived in Maryland) it would be useless to me: my partner and I have separate houses. Now, a married couple could choose to live as we do (and some do) but this basic excludes us from any kind of DP legislation.

    Anyone in favor of dealing with all this through non-marriage alternatives needs to consider that it’s not just the rights and responsibilities, but also how you get there – and there shouldn’t be requirements places on domestic partnerships or civil unions that aren’t placed on marriages.