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Four Decades Along the Rainbow Road

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Putting Principles Over Politics

We all know that the dogma of the Republican Party is to oppose LGBT rights at every turn. LGBT folks are despised so much by the GOP that the party is willing to forego its own long-held beliefs on states’ rights in favor of supporting a Federal Constitutional Amendment that would prohibit marriages between members of the same sex.

All you have to do is check on the voting of LGBT-specific bills and see which party lines up in lockstep opposing equality for LGBT Americans. In a recent example, we saw it in the voting for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” except for the courageous votes of 6 moderate Republicans—an endangered species.

Yes, moderate Republicans are indeed dwindling in numbers. The trend over the past few decades is that they are frequently vanquished in primaries by more socially conservative candidates on the right. Or they choose to not seek re-election and step down after completing their term. Some have lost to Democrats in blue states even thought their ideology may be similar.

And now with the explosion of right wing tea partiers on the scene (the phenomenon will not be enduring) challenging moderate or “not conservative enough” Republicans, the party has clearly shifted to the far right end of the spectrum on social issues, crowding out those moderates even further.

The GOP has devised a moniker for these moderates: RINO—Republicans In Name Only. There is no place in the Republicans’ so-called “big tent” for RINOs, and so they will vanish at some point, switch parties, or struggle to persevere.

But in Maryland, one Republican social moderate has taken a stand and put principles over politics. Former Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman (Carroll, Howard) announced one week before the General Assembly was convened that he would introduce a bill that would grant all couples—gay and straight—civil unions. His objective was to ensure that all gay and lesbian citizens have the same rights afforded opposite sex couples.

Since the stated goal from this Republican—a leader no less—was to establish equality for gay and lesbian couples, it received widespread attention, and any discomfort among his shrinking caucus in the Maryland Senate was not made public, but you can be sure it was present. Exactly two weeks later, Kittleman stepped down from his post as Minority Leader, which he has held for two years, because he recognized his views on LGBT equality do not comport with those of his caucus.

“It is more important for me to stay true to my principles than it is for me to be the Minority Leader,” Kittleman said in a statement. He said he made his decision after meeting with the other 11 GOP senators in the 47-member Senate.

“It was apparent that the majority of the caucus members do not want a fiscal conservative who is also a social moderate as the leader of the caucus,” Kittleman said, according to a report in the Washington Post.

To be sure, marriage equality advocates winced at the notion of a civil union bill for several reasons, not the least of which it sets up a separate but not equal category that the rest of the country do not share and it would not provide the same protections that married couples have been granted. It would also offer an unsatisfactory alternative to the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act that was recently introduced which has been given a good chance for passage this year.

But Kittleman is grappling over whether or not he will be introducing his bill. “I have has not decided to file my civil union bill due to the communications I have had with you and others,” he told me. “I really just want to have equality for everyone and am trying to work the best way to do it.”

Allan Kittleman’s stand is courageous as well as commendable. He bucked his own party caucus on this issue and resigned from a post where he would have had more influence than any of the other GOP senators. This frees him to be who he is, who he is meant to be.

As a son of a civil rights champion, the late Senator Robert Kittleman, it is not surprising that Allan Kittleman would possess progressive leanings on social issues and be true to his principles. And he has walked the walk. Kittleman has attended several PFLAG meetings and events. He presented the winner of the 2010 PFLAG-Howard County Scholarship. He is a very special person.

Politics is interesting and at times ironic. You have the then Senate Republican Leader espousing equality for gays and lesbians. Yet the Democratic President of the Senate, Thomas V. Mike Miller, opposes any form of same-sex partner recognition including civil unions.

Senator Allan Kittleman has demonstrated that for him principles are more important than politics. And that is a breath of fresh air in a political environment that is toxic.

He was right about the fact the rest of his caucus would be opposed to his moderate stance on LGBT equality. They proceeded to elect arguably the most virulently homophobic member of the caucus to replace Kittleman as Minority Leader, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs (Harford, Cecil).


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