Annapolis leadership is out of touch on marriage and other issues

By Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
Sunday, February 28, 2010

In a long-awaited opinion issued Wednesday, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler asserted that the Maryland Court of Appeals sitting today would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, treating those couples the same as any other married couple in Maryland. More important, the attorney general set policy for the state by advising his clients -- government agencies -- to comply.

Reasonable people can and will disagree on the merits of this opinion. It touches many Marylanders in a personal way and comes at a time when families are far more concerned about finding or keeping a job.

I believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, but I also have led efforts to give nontraditional couples access to benefits to which I believe they are entitled, such as medical decision-making authority. Common sense does have a place in this emotional debate.

Let's look at the attorney general's opinion. Tucked away in the 53-page document, Gansler states that the matter of recognizing same-sex marriages "is not free from all doubt."

That's putting it mildly. The attorney general's opinion flies in the face of the one issued by his predecessor, J. Joseph Curran Jr., in 2004. It also runs contrary to the intent and purpose of the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Here's another reality check: A mere 19 percent of Marylanders support same sex-marriage, according to a recent Baltimore Sun poll. With Marylanders overwhelmingly uncomfortable with the prospect of their state recognizing same-sex marriages, our attorney general has provided state lawmakers the impetus to do just that. The opinion's release also throws into chaos a legislative session that should be focused exclusively on creating jobs and reining in government spending.

What strikes me most is not the attorney general's conclusion but the broader pattern it fits, which should give Marylanders pause: Our political leadership in Annapolis is regularly enacting policies that conflict with mainstream sentiment in Maryland.

Consider some other key issues:

First, Marylanders overwhelmingly oppose raising the state sales tax. Yet that's precisely what Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration did in 2007 as a crippling recession hit the state and the nation. That decision -- raising the sales tax by 20 percent -- disproportionately hurt poor and middle-income families and dealt a serious blow to Maryland's entrepreneurs. Every additional dollar the O'Malley administration takes away from Maryland families means one less dollar they can spend in Maryland's small businesses. Less business means more layoffs. Two years after the sales tax hike, more than 100,000 jobs have been lost in Maryland and our state's unemployment rate has hit a 26-year high.

Second, no one can argue that the $8 billion in projected budget deficits that Maryland faces over the next four years isn't a serious problem. Yet leaders in Annapolis are spending $3 billion more today than in 2007. And while the public grows tired of ever-higher spending and budget gimmicks, O'Malley's latest budget proposal spends $400 million in federal dollars that do not exist. That kind of accounting would make Wall Street blush and should have no place in real-world governing.

The list doesn't end there: Forcing nonunion state employees to pay union dues demoralizes thousands of workers and erodes their financial security for no credible reason.

Our representatives in Annapolis are out of step with families, employers and taxpayers. If nothing else, Mr. Gansler's opinion will send lawmakers running for the ideological trenches rather than coming to grips with their spending habits or getting government off the back of job-creating entrepreneurs.

The question is not whether Marylanders want more jobs and less government experimentation with our state's social fabric; the question is whether their representatives in Annapolis will ever start listening.

The writer, a Republican, was governor of Maryland from 2003 to 2007.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company