Maryland Sen. Allan H. Kittleman has spent seven years honing his reputation as a fiscal conservative and Republican leader in the General Assembly, but he made waves this year by standing apart from party colleagues on one of the state's most controversial social issues — same-sex marriage.
The Howard Republican was the only one of 55 Republican state legislators who spoke out in favor of a gay-marriage bill that passed the Senate but died in the House because of seemingly unanimous Republican opposition and resistance from nearly one-third of Democrats.
With state Democrats poised to launch another battle for gay marriage in next year's assembly, Mr. Kittleman said he is willing to lend support and that he might not be the only Republican who ends up aiding the cause.
"I know of [Republican] legislators who have told me they agree with me on the issue," he said, adding that some have kept quiet out of deference to constituents and party leaders. "I'll do whatever I can to help it. I think this is the year."
Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, announced last month that he will sponsor a gay-marriage bill in next year's assembly — a move that is expected to help supporters round up pivotal votes from House Democrats.
While Mr. Kittleman has reservations about the governor's involvement — he thinks it's more for political gain than out of genuine interest — he said he will not waver in his support despite continued disapproval from many Republican colleagues and conservative groups.
Party colleagues have expressed disappointment in mostly reverent tones, but Mr. Kittleman has insisted that feedback has been about 60 percent supportive within his mostly Republican district. He says much of the support has come from younger Republicans.
The senator has argued frequently that government-recognized marriage is a civil right and has explained his vote by citing the example of his father, former state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman.
Robert Kittleman — a pro-choice Republican who served in the General Assembly from 1983 to his death in 2004 — was active in Howard County's civil rights movement and eventually led the county's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"I've always felt strongly for equal rights," Allan Kittleman said. "Supporting the gay-marriage issue wasn't necessarily opposing God's view of marriage. It was just saying that in the government's view, couples who care for one another have the right to do that."
Sam Hale, founder of the tea-party-affiliated Maryland Society of Patriots, called Mr. Kittleman's support for gay marriage "politically stupid and a betrayal of leadership."
"Not only was it bad morally, but in Maryland, Republicans only get a few inches to make gains," he said. "We had an opportunity to reach out to swing Democrats and black Democrats on a very unpopular issue that Democrats were behind."
Mr. Hale also said Mr. Kittleman's position likely will result in a primary challenge.
Other Republican legislators argue that gay marriage defies traditional marriage and will infringe on the rights of religious groups that oppose it — a stance they say is echoed by most constituents.
Delegate Warren E. Miller, Howard Republican who serves two-thirds of Mr. Kittleman's district, said the residents who contacted him during last session's debate "overwhelmingly" opposed to gay marriage.
"It wasn't a bunch of form letters. It was probably one of the highest amounts of contact for any piece of legislation i've ever dealt with," said Mr. Miller, a delegate since 2003.
It is unclear whether Mr. Kittleman's stance will have much of an effect, good or bad, on his political career. He resigned as Senate minority leader — a post he had held for three years — shortly after announcing his support for gay marriage.
He says the decision was done without urging in an effort to avoid distractions during the legislative session. However, some Annapolis observers have accused him of resigning in protest after Republican legislators reacted poorly to a civil-unions bill he planned to sponsor last January. Many Democrats also criticized the bill for failing to extend full marriage rights.
Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs, Harford Republican, said Mr. Kittleman is still a valued member of the Republican delegation and that any initial tension between him and colleagues is mostly gone.
"I don't think it had any lasting effect, because he did what he thought was right," she said.
Though the National Organization for Marriage has vowed to "target" him in future elections, Mr. Kittleman expects to be fairly safe in a Senate district where his father once served and he was re-elected last year by a two-thirds margin after running unopposed in the Republican primary.
However, observers have said the gay-marriage issue could open the door for a Republican challenger in 2014, especially if Mr. Kittleman makes a rumored run for Howard County executive.
Current County Executive Kenneth S. Ulman, a Democrat, will be forced out in 2014 by a two-term limit.
While Mr. Kittleman's stance could be a disadvantage in a primary, should he run for executive and win the party nomination, his support of gay marriage could give him broader appeal, said Jeff Robinson, president of the Howard County Republican Club.
"Howard County is a bit more of a liberal enclave, and it probably opens up his electability on a larger scale," Mr. Robinson said. "Allan and I are fairly good friends, and I am comfortable with him as a representative of the Republican Party."
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