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Will travails of Del. Don Dwyer 'gentle his condition'?

Opponent of same-sex marriage, in trouble, seeks forgiveness

Dan Rodricks

7:39 PM EDT, August 29, 2012

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"Be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition . . ."

—Henry V," by Shakespeare

A colleague had warned me about Don Dwyer's rants against homosexuality, but nothing quite prepares you for that kind of thing. When the words fly from the Anne Arundel County delegate's lips directly to your ear, you almost can't believe what you're hearing.

When I interviewed him a couple of years ago and asked about his strident opposition to same-sex marriage, I think Dwyer invoked God as his adviser on the issue. I say "I think" because my memory of Dwyer from that conversation was less the devout Christian than middle-age homophobe, obsessed with the sinister advance of gay rights.

He expressed grave concern that, if granted equal status in society, gay men and women would soon be inflicting their "lifestyle choices" on the nation's children. For one thing, they would demand that homosexuality be taught in public schools — as part of biology or sociology classes, I guess — and Dwyer made it sound like some sort of indoctrination process, or gay recruitment. The man was pretty serious about that.

I've heard plenty of people say they oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, and some of them are sincere and believable. But a lot of opponents — the majority, I suspect — have hang-ups and fears about homosexuality, and they can't imagine granting people with that orientation the same rights they enjoy as heterosexuals.

That's Dwyer. He's been one of the loudest voices against gay rights in the General Assembly for years. A Republican, he sponsored a bill calling for a state constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. He called the issue "monumental" and perhaps the "largest issue" state legislators would ever face.

In the State House, he handed out a pamphlet with explicit descriptions of gay and lesbian sex acts, claiming that similar material had been passed out to children in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal. "I'm taking the gloves off, and we are going to talk about it all," he declared.

Dwyer opposed everything gay, including a bill granting certain benefits to unmarried couples, such as medical decision-making and hospital visitation rights. Fortunately, that got on the books, despite Dwyer's efforts.

He also called for the impeachment of Doug Gansler following the attorney general's opinion that Maryland could recognize same-sex unions legally performed in other states.

I scratch my head about Dwyer's obsession. Why such an unyielding position on something that really doesn't affect him personally? Gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexual people — how do they impede or harm Dwyer's life? Whatever happened to live and let live, a lovely libertarian credo that Republicans supposedly embrace?

You wonder why a man would allow his public persona to become so identified with such hard opposition to equal rights for a minority of the population.

And now, of course, Dwyer is in trouble, and the trouble threatens to end his political career. He got drunk and drove his motorboat, apparently at full throttle, into another boat on the Magothy River one evening last week, a terrible accident that injured six people, including children.

The next day, outside Maryland Shock Trauma Center, the delegate sat in a wheelchair, his neck in a brace and his left foot in a cast. Dwyer acknowledged that his blood-alcohol content had been 0.2 percent at the time of the crash — more than double the legal limit under state law — and he issued an apology:

"No one, no one should be drinking and operating a motor vehicle or powerboat. I deeply regret my actions and ask for forgiveness from the public. My heart and prayers go out to the family that was involved in the incident, and I pray for them to have a speedy recovery."

Of course, Dwyer didn't use the occasion to announce a switch in his position on gay marriage, and I wouldn't expect it. But I wonder if this experience and its consequences will "gentle his condition." Unless they suffer from Stage IV arrogance, men who find themselves suddenly in trouble and asking for mercy usually soften up their worldview. It's part of self-imposed penance.

Three decades ago, Bob Bauman was a Maryland congressman from the Eastern Shore, a brilliant guy, family man and prominent conservative — until he was arrested for soliciting a 16-year-old male prostitute. Bauman had been sailing along in his career, professing strident views and harsh judgments about all sorts of things, including homosexuality. Then he found himself in the swirling drain of scandal. He lost re-election in 1980, then moved on with his life. I interviewed him a few years later, and he had gained insight and gone through an inspiring transformation. He was grateful for a new start, glad to be shed of the burdens of stridency, much kinder in his judgments of others.

We'll be watching Don Dwyer and hope that his condition improves.

drodricks@baltsun.com