January 6, 2011

Senate GOP leader to propose civil union for gays and straights

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

Senate Republican Leader Allan Kittleman said Wednesday he will introduce legislation establishing civil unions between both heterosexual and same-sex partners.

“I’ve always felt that we should have equal rights for same-sex couples,” Kittleman said in an interview. “I also think it’s important we protect marriage as an institution.”

The Republican who represents part of Howard and Carroll counties said he was introducing the legislation on his own behalf, and not as caucus leader, though he had phoned the other 11 members of the GOP caucus to inform them. He emphasized this is “not a Republican leadership position.”

Bills to establish marriage by same-sex couples have been introduced several times in the last three sessions of the General Assembly, generally sponsored by liberal Democrats. None of them have even had a vote to bring them out of committee.

Kittleman’s stance might not sit well with the bulk of House Republicans, who have several times sponsored a constitutional amendment that said “a marriage between one man and one woman shall be the only domestic legal union valid or recognized” in Maryland. Those efforts died in committee.

Most of the members of the House GOP caucus last year also sought to impeach Democratic Attorney General Doug Gansler for his legal opinion stating that Maryland should recognize gay marriages performed in other states.

This is the first time that Kittleman, who has strong libertarian tendencies, has weighed in on the contentious issue.

Kittleman, a lawyer, said his preference actually would have been to remove references to marriage in Maryland law, and simply have civil unions for all consenting adults, with marriage existing only as a religious institution.

But he found he was pre-empted by the federal Defense of Marriage Act, that denies benefits to even opposite sex couples.

“I think we have a good chance to do this this year,” Kittleman said of his civil union bill, which is being drafted. He called this approach “something that hopefully can be a consensus.”

In a Dec. 13 interview with TBD TV, Gov. Martin O’Malley said, “I do expect the legislature to do something on marriage equality, and I would hope we could move beyond the labels and focus on equal rights” As long as the legislation contained protections for religious freedom, “I will sign that bill,” O’Malley said, reiterating a frequently stated position.

In the same video clip, Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, an openly gay legislator who has been the lead sponsor of gay marriage legislation in the Senate, said that “as a result of the election, there are now pro-marriage majorities in both chambers.”

Kittleman is married with four children and a member of a Presbyterian Church, according to his official biography.