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Governor of Md. vetoes bill on rights for gay partners

WASHINGTON -- Governor Robert Ehrlich of Maryland vetoed a bill yesterday that would have granted rights to gay partners who register with the state, concluding after weeks of intense deliberations that the legislation threatened ''the sanctity of traditional marriage."

The emotionally charged bill was among 25 that the Republican governor rejected yesterday, including legislation to raise the state's minimum wage by $1, allow early voting in elections, and heighten oversight of the state's troubled juvenile justice system.

Modeled after laws in California, Hawaii, and other states, the partners' rights legislation would have granted nearly a dozen rights to unmarried couples who register with the state. Among those: the right to be treated as an immediate family member during hospital visits, to make healthcare decisions for incapacitated partners, and to have private visits in nursing homes.

Another measure sought by gay-rights activists that would have extended a property transfer tax exemption to domestic partners also was vetoed.

In his veto message, Ehrlich said he was ''sympathetic to the needs of mutually dependent couples and want[s] to support compassionate efforts to expedite health-related decisions for Marylanders in need."

He said, however, that the bill's requirement that couples register as ''life partner[s] will open the door to undermine the sanctity of traditional marriage."

Ehrlich suggested that most goals of the legislation could be accomplished with existing legal tools, such as advance medical directives, which allow residents to designate someone to make healthcare decisions for them.

Dan Furmansky, executive director of Equality Maryland, a gay-rights group that lobbied for the legislation, said that the bill had nothing to do with marriage and that some of the rights could not be secured under existing law.

Aides said that next week Ehrlich plans to sign a measure that would add sexual orientation as a protected class under Maryland's hate-crimes law, a move opposed by most in his party.

Most of the legislation vetoed had been opposed by Republican lawmakers. Ehrlich's decision to side, almost without exception, with business interests and social conservatives surprised some, who thought he might try to burnish his credentials as a moderate by allowing some of the more controversial bills to become law.

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