Outsider Is Now a Hero For Some

By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2006

As the public hearing on his proposal to ban same-sex marriage neared an end Tuesday night, Del. Donald H. Dwyer Jr. stood up and moved into the audience.

He found a seat among church friends, constituents and strangers with pro-traditional-marriage buttons, all of them apparently feeling such fervor that they had waited seven hours to testify. For a moment, the man who in most respects is an utter outsider in the Maryland General Assembly felt completely at ease.

"I didn't come here to be the spokesman for the conservative Christian right, but these people feel I'm their only representative here," Dwyer (R-Anne Arundel) said in an interview yesterday.

"To most delegates, I'm weird. I'm different," he said. But to many who trekked to Annapolis to support his plan to amend the constitution, Dwyer is a hero. His proposal -- aimed at buttressing the state's 33-year-old law that says marriage is between a man and a woman -- comes in the aftermath of a Baltimore Circuit Court ruling that found the law unconstitutional.

In the Maryland House of Delegates, Republicans are in the minority. Among Republicans, ultra-conservatives are equally rare. And Dwyer, even his Republican colleagues say, may sit at the very edge of that fringe.

A former airplane parts machinist, Dwyer, 47, took an interest in politics after taking a class, Christianity and the Constitution, in 1998. He quit his job, took up work lecturing on the constitution and its religious origins, and became a zealous advocate of a movement that put up his instructor, Michael Peroutka, as the Constitution Party candidate for president.

Dwyer said his life changed dramatically. In 2002, no longer ambivalent about politics, he challenged a Democratic incumbent in his working-class neighborhood and tapped into a groundswell of religious conservatism.

Since first winning office, his unorthodox views and unpolished approach have repeatedly placed him in the spotlight, as when he e-mailed supporters a treatise titled "Is Islam Really Peaceful?" that described the religion as "militaristic and violent."

Although most lawmakers say they take pride in the dignified discourse on the House floor, Dwyer sees no upside to conformity. He had no qualms writing an open letter criticizing Democrats for their position on a bill about illegal immigration. He relishes the chance to try to impeach the Baltimore judge who tossed out Maryland's marriage law. The judge has stayed her ruling, pending appeal.

Last weekend, Dwyer went on talk radio and listed by name the conservative Democrats who had refused to help him bring his marriage amendment to the floor, even as they professed to support the issue. One of them, Del. Joseph J. Minnick (D-Baltimore), confronted him angrily in the House of Delegates lounge.

"That's not the way we do things here," Minnick roared, telling Dwyer never to come to him for support on any of his bills.

Another delegate who clashed with Dwyer on the bill, Luiz R. S. Simmons (D-Montgomery), called him the "Anne Arundel Ayatollah," and said "the great irony of Don Dwyer is that the framers of the Constitution were terrified of people like him."

Dwyer said his colleagues "aren't used to serving with someone who has the confidence that I do. Someone willing to rock the boat."

It's not entirely clear what all the boat-rocking is accomplishing. His measure appears ready to run aground in the House Judiciary Committee, which is expected to vote today. Democrats are planning for the procedural maneuvers Dwyer might employ to revive the bill on the House floor.

Leaders said they may try to attach a poison-pill amendment to the bill before it reaches the floor, such as a provision that would legalize civil unions in Maryland -- just to complicate the GOP tactics.

For Dwyer, though, winning appears to have little to do with the vote tally.

"To me it's not about that," he said. "To me, it's about principles."

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