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Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Ehrlich's Sharp Right Turn

The Governor’s cowardly veto of pro-gay bills solidifies his alignment with religious right

By Steve Charing

Remember over 20 years ago how the Baltimore Colts slithered their way out of Baltimore in the dead of night? In a similarly craven move, Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. chose the late Friday afternoon of Preakness weekend, where the publicity would be the most minimal, to veto two pro-gay bills as well as a series of other progressive measures.

This cowardly act establishes once and for all that Mr. Ehrlich’s self-portrayal as a moderate in a moderate state is indeed a fraud. As in the case of President Bush, Ehrlich is in bed with the extreme right wing elements of a Party that has been hijacked by self-righteous intrusive but exclusionary moralists, religious fanatics, bigots and homophobes. If the Republicans continue on this course, we should dub them the Christian Taliban.

I’m not the only one who is drawing this conclusion. Dan Furmansky, Executive Director of Equality Maryland—the largest lgbt civil rights organization in the state who worked feverishly to get the bills passed—told Baltimore OUTloud, "What makes Governor Ehrlich's vetoes truly pathetic is that he probably would have signed the bills if he had his druthers, but this man lacks integrity. He is a pawn of the far right elements of the Maryland Republican Party, who have as many moderates in the General Assembly as I can count on two hands," said Furmansky. "Unfortunately, he is a coward that is afraid to stand up to the anti-gay zealots who have officially taken over the Republican Party in this state."

One of the bills vetoed by the Governor was the hard-fought Medical Decision-Making Act that had been ultimately passed with a significant margin in both houses of the General Assembly. The other —the Transfer & Recordation Tax Exemption Bill—would have allowed same-sex couples to transfer real estate to each other without paying recordation and transfer taxes, a privilege afforded to married couples. Veto overrides next January are uncertain at this juncture, but prospects appear dim.

The Medical Decision-Making Act was designed to establish a statewide domestic partner registry so that members of all unmarried couples, both gay and straight, would be allowed to make key decisions regarding the health care of the affected partner. There were also other provisions not contained in advance directives that would have allowed benefits that are conferred upon married couples, such as hospital visitation rights, sharing an ambulance and the right to partners’ living in the same nursing home room.

However, Governor Ehrlich collapsed under the pressures from the likes of Republican extremists Delegate Donald H. Dwyer, Jr., Senator Nancy Jacobs and Senator Alex X. Mooney as well as other homophobes who, in the name of religion and morality, have captured the Governor’s ear (and soul). He vetoed the bill saying, "…the creation a new term of life partner will open the door to undermine the sanctity of traditional marriage." How visiting your sick partner in a hospital room would impact the marriage of the Governor and Kendal Ehrlich is a mystery that defies both logic and common decency.

"[The] vetoes are confirmation that the moderate wing of the Republican Party in Maryland, which the Governor is supposed to represent, has dwindled into obscurity," said openly gay Delegate Richard S. Madaleno (D-Kensington). "Truly moderate Republican Governors around the nation, like Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell and California Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar, have lent support for far more comprehensive measures than those the Governor killed."
The vetoes surprised many who believed the Governor needed to burnish his credentials as a moderate to appeal to that large segment of the voting population that helped him get elected in the first place and are critical to his re-election chances.

But these anti-gay actions are consistent with Ehrlich’s attitudes throughout his political career towards the lgbt community. In his current term, Mr. Ehrlich declared on his favorite medium, talk radio, that he would not permit same-sex marriages "on his watch." As a member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Ehrlich was given a lowly pro-gay score of 25 out of 100 by the Human Rights Campaign—the nation’s largest lgbt advocacy organization—that was slightly better than that of the reactionary Rep. Roscoe Bartlett’s score of zero. When he was a member of Maryland’s House of Delegates, Mr. Ehrlich railed against gays and lesbians receiving "special rights."

Not only did these vetoes slap the face of the lgbt community at large, it was a strike against Mr. Ehrlich’s own chief of staff, Steven L. Kreseski—who is said to be openly gay—as well as other gay members of the Governor’s staff. On John Aravosis’ AmericaBlog.org, "John in DC" offered the following: "How interesting that Governor Ehrlich, a Republican, is worried that gays threaten the sanctity of marriage when his own chief of staff, Steve Kreseski, is openly gay and has been for the 15 years I've known him."

He continued, "It's hard to believe that Ehrlich doesn't know Steve is gay, he's been out and about in town since the early 1990s at least, and Steve even once told me years ago, when he was working for Ehrlich on the Hill, that Ehrlich knew he was gay. So the question is begged: Why does Ehrlich have an open gay chief of staff if Ehrlich claims to support the family values agenda? If gays threaten that agenda then how can he have a gay as chief of staff?"
Baltimore OUTloud attempted to reach Mr. Kreseski for comments on how the vetoes would impact the gay members of the Governor’s staff. He referred the question to the Governor’s Press Office, which did not return calls to OUTloud.

It is inconceivable how the Governor can object to a person visiting a loved one in the hospital. Just as the decision to allow same-sex marriage in Massachusetts served to mobilize the "base" for Republicans, the vetoes may produce the same outcome but in reverse. This should galvanize Maryland’s pissed off lgbt community to take action to make him a one-term governor. He posed as a moderate, but his actions show that he’s clearly a fake.

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