MD High Court Sides with Domestic Partners

June 17, 2002 ( - Maryland's highest court has approved a Montgomery County law extending benefits to domestic partners. The decision was seen as a significant victory for gay rights groups, according to a Washington Post report.

“For families who need health insurance, decisions like this means the sun comes out,” Jenny Pizer, an attorney with Lambda Legal, who filed a friend of the court brief on the county’s behalf with the state Court of Appeals last year, told the Post.

The decision means that homosexual employees, who legally cannot marry their partners, can claim them as health insurance beneficiaries. Of the county’s 12,000 current and retired employees, this involves 38 people currently participating.

“It’s a small program,” County Council spokesman Patrick Lacefield told the Post, “but for people who need it, it makes a huge difference.”

The Challengers

The Montgomery law was challenged by the American Center for Law and Justice, a group founded, in part, by Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson in 1997 to fight for religious rights and uphold traditional family values.

The group, said senior counsel Vincent McCarthy, “is interested in maintaining the integrity of marriage as one man, one woman.” The Montgomery law, he added, chips away at marriage’s integrity because it “gives spousal benefits to people who aren’t married, so there’s no reason to be married.”

Though his group is disappointed in the court’s decision, he said, “I doubt very much that we’re going to appeal.”

Montgomery County’s attorney, Charles Thompson told the Post that County Council members adopted the law three years ago at least in part as a way to stay up with a competitive employment market.

“To compete for employees, you need to be able to compete on the same plane,” he said, noting that about a third of Fortune 500 companies offer similar benefits packages. In Maryland, some of the large employers with such benefits are Marriott International, Discovery Channel and Johns Hopkins University, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a DC-based gay advocacy group.