Capital Notebook

Capital Notebook

March 02, 2006

Emotions flare over same-sex marriage

Despite rejection of a similar bill by House lawmakers last month, a Senate committee took up yesterday the emotionally charged debate over whether Maryland should ban same-sex marriage in its constitution.

Clergy, constitutional law experts and children of gay parents were among those who packed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee room to speak out on the issue.

The marriage debate dominated the opening weeks of the legislature after a Baltimore judge sided with 19 gay men and women, ruling that Maryland's 33-year-old law defining marriage between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. The discussion shows few signs of dying down.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties, engaged in an impassioned debate with James Raskin, a constitutional law professor from American University, over the influence of the Bible on modern law.

"As I read Biblical principles, marriage was intended, ordained and started by God - that is my belief," she said. "For me, this is an issue solely based on religious principals."

Raskin shot back that the Bible was also used to uphold now-outlawed statutes banning interracial marriage, and that the constitution should instead be lawmakers' guiding principle.

"People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution; they don't put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible," he said.

Some in the room applauded, which led committee chairman Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat from Montgomery County, to call for order. "This isn't a football game," he said.

While the failed House measure included a ban on civil unions, which opponents argued was too broad, the Senate bill would ask voters only whether same-sex marriage should be banned.

Some proponents of the Senate bill, which would allow voters to decide in the November election whether to prohibit same-sex marriage, said it has a better chance than a House measure killed earlier this session.

But the sponsor, Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Republican representing Baltimore and Carroll counties, said he believes Democratic Senate leaders would prefer to ignore the bill because placing the question of gay marriage on the ballot in an election year could drive up turnout from conservatives, possibly helping Republican candidates in the fall.

"We have the support. The key is getting a vote," said Haines.

Kelly Brewington

Senator puts squeeze on rival

They say during a legislative session in Annapolis you can't turn around without bumping into a lawmaker or a lobbyist.

Seems you can't even choke on your dinner without the guy you're challenging for the Senate jumping in to give you the Heimlich.

While eating seafood pasta Monday night, James C. Rosapepe - a former delegate, member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and ambassador to Romania - began choking in the nearly empty Maria's Sicilian Ristorante.

He rose from the table he was sharing with Del. Sheila E. Hixson, a Montgomery County Democrat, and former Del. Timothy F. Maloney, coughing, sputtering and heading toward the kitchen seeking aid.

Rosapepe ran smack into Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat and the man whose seat he's gunning for in a gloves-off primary campaign.

Giannetti, alone at the bar waiting for takeout spaghetti and meatballs, turned toward the ruckus. "And then I realized who it was," Giannetti says. "It was my outspoken critic."

Shoving politics aside, the youthful senator, trained in first aid, reached his arms around Rosapepe and squeezed just so, until out flew a bite of fish.

After an awkward but heartfelt round of thank-you/ it-was-nothing's, that was the end of the drama - but only the beginning of the story.

Before lunchtime yesterday, reporters were stacked three-deep outside the Senate chambers to hear Giannetti recount his heroic turn. (It had first been reported in The Washington Post.) Sure, some of his more jaded peers made stuck-hairball noises as they walked past him, but that wasn't diluting the enthusiasm of CNN Headline News or about a dozen other media outlets.

Giannetti, as it turns out, is no Heimlich virgin. He saved his wife's brother from a wayward piece of steak at a wedding, and at a committee dinner when he was a delegate, he heave-ho'd some bread from the windpipe of a colleague's husband.

Rosapepe shrugged off the seriousness of the incident yesterday, saying, "I didn't feel like I was in a life-or-death situation." But he's grateful just the same, he added.

"I look at it like this," Rosapepe says. "I was lucky it wasn't serious. He was lucky he had an opportunity to do a good deed."

Jill Rosen

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