As marriage equality takes center stage among Maryland lawmakers, state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (R-Carroll, Howard) garnered attention first for announcing that he would be introducing a civil union bill in the state, then for resigning as minority leader, and finally for issuing a statement this week expressing his support for the marriage bills currently in play in Maryland's general assembly.
In an exclusive interview with Metro Weekly, Kittleman explains his resignation, why he found it essential to make a statement in support of marriage equality and the reaction he has received since releasing his statement.
''I've gotten people who have said they will never vote for me again and that I should just switch my party. You hear some of those things, but I'll tell you, they're very, very few compared to the numerous ones that have been very positive.''
Despite Kittleman's move, he tells Metro Weekly that he is not expecting additional Republicans to sign on.
''Nobody has come to me to say that they are going to be supporting it,'' he says, adding that he's OK with that. ''I think it's helping my party to have people realize that they can announce their beliefs on this issue and feel comfortable supporting same-sex equality because no other people stood up.''
Kittleman will join others on Tuesday, Feb. 8, at the Maryland Statehouse in Annapolis for a hearing on Senate Bill 116, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act. Equality Maryland describes the hearing as ''the most important day yet for winning marriage in Maryland.''
Metro Weekly's full exclusive interview is below:
METRO WEEKLY: Did the caucus ask you to resign?
KITTLEMAN: No, they did not ask me to resign. I think some people were assuming that and it really is not true. I have a disagreement with several members of my caucus on this issue, but it was more [that] I really wanted them to feel comfortable with the person who was leading them and not to have them have any feelings of hardship or discomfort. A lot of times as a leader when you speak up, people think you're speaking for the caucus. It was out of respect for them and also a desire for me to be able to speak out freely.
MW: Did your resignation help you come out in support of the bills?
KITTLEMAN: I think that probably made it easier. It wasn't the reason I stepped down. It wasn't like I was planning on announcing this. I think that certainly had I been leader still, I probably would have felt a need to sit down with my colleagues and talk to them about it, to make sure they knew where I was going. Now that I wasn't, even though I still talked to some of my colleagues, I didn't feel the same pressure to have to make sure they understood what was going on before I made my decision.
Some people joke and say, ''Oh, it's time for you to become a Democrat.'' I'm a Republican. And I'm proud to be a Republican. I think I'm one of the strongest Republicans in the state of Maryland because I believe in a two-party system and I really do believe in a consistent freedom. There are some of my friends who are on the other side of the aisle, who aren't consistently free on economic issues. I think I'm trying to be consistent.
So, I'm telling people who have asked me about my decision to support Senate Bill 116 – what I've told them is I'm being consistent and that I'm also being Republican. Republicans believe in less government intervention. That's what the same-sex marriage bill does.
MW: Why did you make the decision to come out in support of marriage?
KITTLEMAN: I really was serious about civil unions, it wasn't something that I just threw up [there] -- if it wasn't for the Defense of Marriage Act, I still think the civil union one may have been doable. My goal really was to try to get some people on the conservative side to come over. I was trying to find some way to bring in consensus. After four weeks of still being the only one out there speaking in favor of this idea, I realized that my idea was not going to fly and the deadline for filing bills is today [Feb. 4], and I knew that if I wasn't going to get a whole lot of support from either side, that I was tilting at windmills. Even though I don't mind tilting at windmills at times, this one, it didn't make sense. I should then look at my choice. My choice was supporting the marriage bill or supporting continued prohibition. As I wrote in my statement I just, in good conscience, couldn't support denying rights to same-sex couples. So I decided to support the senate bill.
MW: Do you think any other Republicans will come out in support of these marriage equality measures?
KITTLEMAN: I have no indication of that. I'm certainly not going to presume anything, but nobody has come to me to say that they are going to be supporting it. Each individual has to make decisions that they think is best for their constituents and their convictions, and I will tell you I will not demean or chastise anyone should they choose to vote against the bill. That's their right and they have every right to do so. I just hope that I get the same respect in return that I've made this decision.
The response I've been getting is overwhelmingly positive even from Republicans. Some will say we don't necessarily agree but we appreciate your thoughtfulness and the way you went through the process of figuring out how you should vote. I think my statement did give people a good understanding of where I was coming from.
I think all in all it's been a good thing for me personally. Also, this is a little bit partisan, but it's a good thing for my party. I think it's helping my party to have people realize that they can announce their beliefs on this issue and feel comfortable supporting same-sex equality because no other people stood up.
MW: Do you have an interest in persuading them to change their minds?
KITTLEMAN: I tell people that I think supporting this bill is a very Republican idea, very consistent with Republican philosophy, and if that sways some people that's great, if not I respect their decision. I'm not focusing on any one individual, but we talk, we're a very close family here in the State Senate. We only have 47 members and we sit on committees with 11, and so you get to know people pretty well. Both sides of the aisle, we've become very close and we talk and we share things. To me it's not so much whether I can get Republican's support, the question is whether or not we can get a majority.
MW: Do you think you lost some influence stepping down as minority leader?
KITTLEMAN: I don't think so. A young person told me that I'm getting ''street cred.'' I think that's important. I think in Annapolis what's really important is your reputation. If people think that you're willing to stand up for what you believe for, then they're more willing to respect you in other areas as well. So hopefully people will realize that I don't do things just for politics, I do things just because I think they're right. And, then you get the respect of people from both sides.
MW: Have you gotten negative feedback for your stance?
KITTLEMAN: I've gotten people who have said they will never vote for me again and that I should just switch my party. You hear some of those things, but I'll tell you, they're very, very few compared to the numerous ones that have been very positive. It's from, not just folks who are gay rights activists, I have a bunch of those, but I have a lot of people who are from my community, and from my church. I think this is actually a very good thing for me and for my community to have this discussion. I think people are realizing we need to talk about this and if what I have done helps us to have a discussion on this topic, that's a good thing.
MW: How confident are you that marriage equality will pass Maryland?
KITTLEMAN: I think it has a fairly good chance. I'm hopeful that it will pass of course. I'm going to participate at the hearing on Tuesday in the Senate and so we'll have to take on each hurdle at a time. One of the problems we have in Annapolis is if you focus too far down the road, you miss what you have to do right now. And right now we have to focus on committee, make sure we get it out of committee and we'll focus on the floor.