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Bill Kennedy: Wrong to deny rights to gay couples

One of the issues in the forefront of this year's legislative session in Annapolis is the same-sex marriage legislation put forth by the governor and supported by many legislators.

After hearing and reading many comments, both pro and con on the subject, I figured that I should weigh in with my opinion as well. I realize that the more religious among the population are against this legislation strictly because of the Bible teachings. I respect their opinions and am glad that they have the courage of their convictions to follow through with their opposition.

There are, however, other more practical reasons to support this legislation. Just suppose there is a heterosexual couple who have lived together for many years, maybe with children, maybe not, but who have never married. One of the partners is stricken with a horrible debilitating disease or is seriously injured in an accident. Because they have never married, the healthy partner has no rights as to the treatment and care of their loved one. In some cases they are even denied the right to visit their partner in the hospital or other health- care facility. Those rights are reserved for the next of kin, which could be aged parents, estranged siblings or even, after divorce, a former spouse.

The longtime domestic partner of the stricken one has no say in the absence of a legally binding health- care directive or living will or power of attorney or other such document. As caring people we would decry that situation, declaring it unfair and unfeeling. That, however, is exactly the situation that those in same-sex committed relationships find themselves.

I personally know of a couple who have been together for more years than many heterosexual married couples, more than 20, and own property together so theirs would qualify as a committed relationship. By most recognized standards they would be considered "married" except for the legal piece of paper that they are not allowed to get. As it now stands, as in the hypothetical situation I noted, if one of them is seriously sick or injured the other has no rights of any kind without the legal documents I mentioned previously.

To me, the proposed legislation has nothing to do with religion, as the bills submitted do not mandate that churches must perform the ceremonies or even recognize the civil marriage in their own eyes. What this legislation is designed to do is allow same sex couples who wish to formalize their relationships, as heterosexual couples often do, in a civil ceremony to do so and thereby gain the legal rights granted to heterosexual couples.

You may not agree with the lifestyle for whatever reason, be it personal or religious or whatever, but to deny basic rights that are granted to others just because they have a different lifestyle is just plain wrong. People do not chose to be gay. Who would chose to be considered by many to be an outcast or pervert or worse?

We as a society should not and cannot in all good conscience deny any group the basic legal rights of caring for a partner who is sick or injured.

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