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Key Md. Republican Backs Marriage

Key Md. Republican Backs Marriage


Sen. Allan Kittleman announced his support for the marriage equality bill in Maryland on Wednesday, becoming the first, and perhaps the only, Republican senator to support the measure in a move expected to strengthen its prospects for passage.

The senator released a statement one day after publicly breaking ranks with his Republican colleagues, who voted as a caucus to oppose the measure pending in the state legislature. In the statement, he also announced that he would abandon his proposal for a civil unions bill, a consensus attempt he conceived last month that failed to gain traction among gay rights activists and senators from either party.

Kittleman, the son of the late state senator and civil rights leader Robert H. Kittleman, explained his decision in an interview with The Advocate.

"My primary goal was equal rights for same-sex couples," he said. "After four weeks of looking at [the civil unions bill] it was evident to me that there wasn't going to be any desire to go that way, although the folks knew I was trying to do what I thought was best. I really am looking forward to supporting Senate Bill 116."

Senate Bill 116, officially called the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, was introduced in the Maryland senate and house of delegates last month. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in the senate's judicial proceedings committee.

Last month, Kittleman abruptly stepped down as senate minority leader over disagreement with more socially conservative Republican colleagues about his civil union bill. He anticipated he might be the only senator from his party to support the marriage equality bill, although he cautioned that time remains in the session to change minds.

"Right now I am not optimistic that there will be any of my colleagues in the senate," he said. "The only indication I have is that most if not all oppose it."

Advocates have expressed hope for passing marriage equality in this session of the legislature, but roadblocks are predicted in the form of religious-based opposition including the National Organization for Marriage and an attempted filibuster in the senate. The announcement from Kittleman, who described himself as a "strong follower of Jesus Christ," provides a significant boost.

Equality Maryland, the statewide advocacy organization, hailed the announcement from Kittleman as a major breakthrough in the campaign for marriage equality.

"Today we are reminded that the pursuit of civil rights is not limited to party affiliation," said executive director Morgan Menesses-Sheets. "We know that there are many citizens of varied faiths, varied political beliefs, and varied life experiences who understand that to seek equal treatment under the law is a core American value, and one that truly unites us as citizens in the Free State. Equality Maryland looks forward to continuing its work with leaders like Sen. Kittleman to achieve full equality and legal parity for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Marylanders."

A well-known figure in the faith community, Kittleman said it was important to address the distinction between his private and public lives. He has attended a nondenominational church since 1978.

"While my church may teach one thing, my faith is private and my service as a senator is public," he said. "There are a lot of things that religions teach that we wouldn't want in our government."

The support from Kittleman represents a significant step from a Republican senator in states on the cusp of marriage equality including Maryland, New York and Rhode Island. In New York, for example, not a single Republican senator publicly supports the marriage equality bill yet, but advocates hopeful about passage this year acknowledge that support from at least a handful of Republican senators in the closely divided chamber will be essential.

Asked for his perspective, Kittleman said he could only speak for himself.

"I'm a Republican because I'm an economic conservative," he said. "I really believe that the government should stay out of people's business as much as possible. I also believe in personal freedom. We have to be consistent and do that with our personal lives as well."
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