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Baltimore County needs to drop its opposition to same-sex benefits

MarriageFamilyUnionsJustice SystemSame-Sex Marriage

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz shouldn't require more than a nanosecond to dismiss any notion of appealing an independent arbitrator's ruling that two Baltimore County police officers should not be denied health benefits for their same-sex spouses. That the county chose to deny that coverage in the first place is a mistake of the previous administration that need not be repeated.

County residents may recall that it was nearly two years ago that Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler issued a letter stating that Maryland should recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Yet, six months after the opinion was made public, the two officers had to file grievances through the police union because the county (which had at first deducted spousal premiums from their paychecks) decided to deny coverage altogether.

Perhaps the Gansler letter never made it to Towson because the county's lawyers decided to interpret Maryland law differently, arguing that the state's definition of marriage is "between a man and a woman" only. That's true, but as the attorney general pointed out, that provision does not address out-of-state marriages any more than other restrictions the state puts on wedlock (the age of the couple, for instance) affect the recognition of out-of-state unions.

But even if the legal point is arguable, why do it? Either the county has chosen to oppose same-sex marriage on the basis of political ideology — a position likely at odds with the view of a majority of county residents — or it was driven by a desire to save the expense.

Such penny-pinching might sound laughable, but Baltimore County has built a reputation for bean-counting above and beyond its peers. It's also earning notoriety for losing court challenges brought by workers wrongly denied benefits they are due — including employees allegedly harassed out of their jobs because they had expensive medical conditions, a pattern of behavior reportedly under federal investigation.

Perhaps the county merely wants to use same-sex marriage benefits as a bargaining chip in contract negotiations with the police union. If so, that's a strategy officials may want to reconsider. Better for Mr. Kamenetz to stand up now and make it clear to all county workers (and not just police officers) that Baltimore County does not deny health benefits that are rightfully due.

A majority of Fortune 500 companies extend health benefits to same-sex couples (and not just those married in the handful of states that allow it), and many have done so for years. It would be in the interest of workers, of county government and of the community for the Kamenetz administration to follow their lead. Not to mention it's also a trivial cost that yields a valuable dividend: a message of equality and fairness for all.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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