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March 1, 2012

"It's character that counts"

Chris Cavey

Last week both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly voted favorably on the Civil Marriage Protection Act, allowing gays to legally marry in Maryland. In hindsight that vote was more of a study about the character of our elected representatives than a great dissertation on changing Maryland's morals by law.


Personally, I believe marriage should be between members of the opposite sex. I believe that marriage, with the natural family unit and relationships it creates, is the backbone of every culture since the beginning of time. It is a bond historically centered around the reproductively of our species and is a control mechanism within our culture.


In a constitutional republic there are basic principles in ideology, such as certain freedoms: equality before the law, civic duties of citizens and government being answerable to citizens by the changing of their elected representatives. Aside from demographic swings, many changes in our representatives are made due to the declined character and morals of those serving in office... once again they will be answerable for their actions I'm sure.


Although I have personal disagreement with those who voted in favor of this bill, I have nothing but respect for members of each chamber who have fought long and hard and openly championed their respective sides of this issue. It is a test of character in Annapolis when – on tough issues – individual members go against the grain of their party or chamber leadership to represent their constituency.


It is also a time when lack of character tempts the feeble.


Sen. Allen Kittleman (R., Carroll/Howard) is a man of character. He has been a champion of this specific issue, and that has not been easy to do as a Republican senator and prior minority caucus leader. The senator had previously voted in favor of gay marriage. He has offered his own "compromise" bill based on civil unions rather than "marriage" and has worked the trenches to find middle ground within this emotional debate. Senator Kittleman speaks intelligently about his issue and is not angry in debate.


Last summer I listened as the senator explained his position to a room full of hard core GOP club members. It was elegant and emotional. He took his time, didn't back down and answered many tough questions over the course of a very long hour in a very uncomfortable situation. Afterwards he received applause.


The applause was not a sign of agreement on the issue but that of respect. He had reminded everyone of his long-held stance, explained and answered all questions asked. He did his job, reached out to his constituency and was openly accountable for his actions, which is exactly what an elected representative should do.


Senator Kittleman is a man of class and character.


On the House side of the statehouse dome, the gay marriage bill found itself in much murkier water. Being "the people's house," its members are a scrappier bunch. When Gov. Martin O'Malley and the House leadership checked their vote count on this bill, they found many of the House Democrats were not in favor due to their deeply held moral and religious beliefs. (Signs of character.)


The "persuadables" within the Democrat realm were a finite number – which meant Democrat leadership looked to the low hanging fruit within the ranks of the GOP to put Governor O'Malley's signature bill over the top. The goal of one or two GOP votes would allow proponents to claim bi-partisan support in the House...their justification and future claim to the media of broad-ranging social support.


It is not a sign of either virtue or character when a member of the minority party, or any elected official, is so easily or readily identified as "obtainable." It typically means someone has trod that same path to the well previously on less high profile issues. It indicates those members are known to have compromised their morals and the confidence of their constituency by changing votes while in Annapolis and many miles away from the people back home.


We all know character is about what you do when no one is looking.


One member who was "obtained" has spent 37 long years serving conservative Republican constituency in the House of Delegates. Presumably "He Who Shall Remain Nameless" should be the GOP elder statesman, who has fought every battle and would understand best the tricks and temptations of those who would persuade the weak minded. He should have been the teacher and example of integrity and dependability.


But not so... this delegate's opinion on the issue suddenly and mysteriously changed, shocking his rural conservative district and the Republican caucus. The delegate's testimony, earlier that afternoon, within his committee, had been against the bill; even casting his vote to kill the issue of gay marriage before it could reach a full House vote. Yet, within a few short hours his 37-years of purported conservative principles and personal reputation vanished – after a visit with an "influential friend."


It makes you wonder...was this the first time?


Later his explanation for his vote and change of heart was awkward and contrived... as if he had a sudden epiphany. Perhaps it was just years of pretending and self-service finally rearing its ugly head.


The meeting with his influential visitor prompted many rumors by his disappointed peers about potential deals – which likely did or will happen, but only time will tell. Was it payback for favorable redistricting? Future money for his 10th four-year term? Perhaps a nice well-paid state appointed job? Or enhanced retirement? Who knows? Whatever the deal, it only brings shame to our system of government and discredits those who serve in Annapolis.


One thing is certain: this delegate will now become an ineffective leper within the General Assembly. Once you have openly and publicly compromised your morals, given others the perception your vote is for sale and indicate through your actions that your word can no longer be trusted, you are done.


Henry Clay once said: "Of all the properties which belong to honorable men, not one is so highly prized as that of character."


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