Md. Del. Tiffany Alston explains her crisis of conscience over same-sex marriage

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 10:52 PM

The man recognized Tiffany T. Alston as she stood in line at Chipotle at Annapolis Mall.

"You're that delegate who didn't show up," he said accusingly.

Recalling the incident in her office a few days later, Alston tried to explain what had motivated her to co-sponsor a bill to legalize same-sex marriage only to leave the Maryland House Judiciary Committee hearing room last week just before it came up for a vote.

"I had no idea what to do," said Alston (D-Prince George's). "I feel really strongly that people who love each other should be able to get married, no matter what their gender. But I also realize that that's not my function here. I'm here to represent the 110,000 people back home, many of whom had called and e-mailed and said, 'We don't want that bill.' "

So the freshman lawmaker took a respite, in the form of a 15-minute ride around the picturesque State House with her chief of staff and longtime best friend, Nefetari Smith, and another state delegate, Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore), who was also holding out.

The break helped her come to terms with her conflict, and she returned to her office determined to vote no, as her constituents had demanded. The problem was that by the time she returned, the voting session had been postponed and the halls of the House were abuzz.

"I came in later, and there were all these reporters with microphones sticking them in my face," she said. "They don't realize how unnerving that is."

It has been an unnerving two weeks for Alston, as the same-sex marriage bill has built up steam the likes of which it never had before. The measure might come up for a vote in the House on Friday. Should it pass, opponents have pledged to raise enough signatures to send it to a referendum, which Alston supports.

With a little more than two months as a member of the House of Delegates under her belt, Alston has read through reams and reams of research and conducted research of her own. She has learned the byways of the State House and tried to navigate peacefully between the old guard and the new blood.

She admits that she is having some trouble reconciling what she thinks is right with the will of the people. But she wouldn't have it any other way. That's when she comes back to the conversation with the man in Chipotle.

After she explained her position, she asked his opinion of the bill. He opposed it. She urged him to contact his legislators.

"Y'all politicians do what you want, anyway," the man told her.

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