Md. state employees in same-sex marriages get same rights as heterosexuals
State employees in Maryland can now sign up same-sex spouses as dependents, making them eligible to receive the same health care and other benefits afforded to husbands and wives of heterosexual state employees, according to Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) office.
The change, made public Wednesday, means that O'Malley's administration has followed through in codifying a legal opinion issued in February by Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler.
In that opinion, Gansler overturned a previous attorney general, writing that there was nothing barring the state from recognizing valid same-sex unions performed elsewhere. In his role as Maryland's top legal adviser to state agencies, Gansler at the time also went one step further, saying that state agencies should begin granting married same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones.
The day Gansler released his opinion, O'Malley issued a statement saying his administration would be "guided" by the attorney general's opinion.
O'Malley has consistently voiced support for civil unions but stopped short of endorsing same-sex marriage. O'Malley's chief opponent in his reelection bid, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R), has blasted the attorney general's decision, saying it flies in the face of state precedent not to recognize same-sex marriage.
A Washington Post poll conducted this month found that Marylanders are shifting toward a more positive opinion of same-sex marriage. Registered voters would now narrowly support a law to allow it, according to poll respondents. A clear majority of those polled -- 55 percent -- also said that if gay people get married in another state, those unions should be considered legal in Maryland; 38 percent say the state should not recognize them.
Under new rules governing Maryland's state employee benefits program, members of same-sex unions with a valid marriage certificate from another state or the District have until June 2 to enroll a spouse for coverage beginning July 1.
Political observers expect the move to prompt a legal challenge that could make it all the way to the state's highest court.
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