Wait just a blessed moment, Mike Miller

If man-woman marriage law is 'blessed by God,' what about gambling and the death penalty?

January 26, 2011|By Dan Rodricks

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, the Calvert-Prince George's County politician who has been in elected office since the Baltimore Colts won the fifth Super Bowl 40 years ago, opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions. Why? He was quoted in this newspaper Tuesday, saying he believes the traditional definition of marriage — man and woman — "is blessed by God" and meant to further procreation.

Blessed by God?

That sounds distinctly like a religious belief expressed by some fundamentalist thumper; it's not exactly what you might expect from the Democratic leader of the Senate of perhaps the bluest state in the nation.

But Mr. Miller, who has been in Annapolis so long they've already named a building after him, apparently thinks it's OK to openly state religious belief to support a position on state law — and so much for the principle of separation.

One assumes Mr. Miller, who entered the bar in 1967, took a constitutional law course when he was a student at the University of Maryland School of Law, and he can probably recall Jefferson's references to "a wall of separation between church and state," and even a few Supreme Court decisions upholding the principle.

That principle is central to the question of whether Maryland, or any state, should make legal all marriages between any two adults.

The only argument against same-sex marriage is a religious one — and, therefore, no argument at all in a constitutional democracy where separation is cherished.

At least Mr. Miller says that if a majority of his fellow legislators approve same-sex marriage, he won't support a filibuster to stop it from happening. How magnanimous. But the thing is, if we want government to stay out of religion, we need to keep religion out of government. That's a profoundly fundamental concept, deserving the protection of each branch of government and its leadership, in particular.

So I don't know what Mr. Miller is doing invoking God here, except that it's so like him. He's had a long political career, and he continues to enjoy great power and betray the hubris of certainty about almost everything. He never managed to get a campaign for higher office going, and so, lacking much appeal beyond his rural-suburban Maryland county, he's been more than content to play State House poobah, declaring various bills good or bad, alive or dead. What a life!

And never mind idealistic ambitions in support of the ascent of man, once the standard of Democrats. Mike Miller is more pragmatist than Democrat. If he declares a bill to be a nonstarter, it is. He's often invoked this kind of two-bit realism to justify principles compromised or reforms deferred. That's the way of the career pol.

Distinct in memory is Mr. Miller's sarcastic description of Joe Curran, the former Maryland attorney general and one of the few political leaders here who ever had the brass to call for strict controls, and an eventual ban, on handguns. Mr. Miller never did any such thing, of course, and he seemed to be annoyed that Mr. Curran even tried. "My take on Joe is that he has the makings of a Catholic priest," went Mr. Miller's smug and condescending remark about the widely respected Mr. Curran. "He's a very thoughtful person, very true to his beliefs — and always a bit preachy."

Funny how Mr. Miller sounds like the "preachy" one now, telling us that marriage is for men and women only, such unions having been "blessed by God."

Mr. Miller has always been a big supporter of the expansion of legalized gambling in the state. He got real testy a few years ago when Michael Busch, the speaker of the House of Delegates, first suggested that Maryland voters, and not the legislature, should have the final say on the legalization of slot machines. Mr. Miller slammed Mr. Busch for that position. "That's not leadership," he declared. "That's followership."

Just curious: Do you think slot machine gambling has been "blessed by God"?

Mr. Miller, of course, is also a big supporter of the death penalty. "If there's a gallows, I'll pull the lever," he once boasted. "If there's a gas chamber, I'll turn the valve. If it's lethal injection, I'll insert the needle." And just two weeks ago, he was in The Washington Post, calling for the resumption of executions in Maryland.

I wonder if Mr. Miller thinks state-sanctioned killing of a guy is "blessed by God," too.

I sent him an e-mail asking that question yesterday morning. I didn't hear back. Maybe he didn't have a chance because it snowed — you know, act of God.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM. His e-mail is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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