Maryland Del. Sam Arora’s decision to vote against the same-sex marriage bill last week proved unpopular with many in his progressive Montgomery County district, but no one was more disappointed than Arora’s own state senator, Roger Manno.
Sen. Manno (D-District 19), in a lengthy interview with the Blade, recalled his ultimately unsuccessful efforts to persuade Arora to support the bill, stretching back to last year.
“It’s a very tough situation,” Manno said. “I’m extremely concerned and disappointed and have spoken to constituents who are confused and concerned. I’m so … deeply disappointed and sad that Sam could not get there for whatever reason.”
Manno said he began meeting regularly with Arora shortly after he was elected in 2010 and heard that the freshman delegate was struggling with the marriage issue. Arora had campaigned on a pledge of support for the bill and even co-sponsored it initially before changing his mind last year.
“I could sense there could be a problem,” Manno said. “And I tried to mentor him. Freshmen make mistakes here and it’s easy to do things that are damaging to your career and that hurt people.”
So Manno and several other members of the Montgomery County delegation to Annapolis tried “to get him to see the issue as we saw it.”
“In my heart, marriage equality is an important and timely issue of emancipation for loving families who happen to be of the same sex,” Manno said.
After the marriage bill died in the House last year and the session ended, Manno said Arora took time off to study for the bar exam. Then last summer the two colleagues met again to discuss marriage.
“We sat for several hours and talked about his thoughts on marriage equality and where he was on the bill and he represented it was a crisis of faith,” Manno said.
At that point, Arora expressed a range of concerns about the bill, Manno said, including religious, moral and constitutional objections. Still, Manno urged Arora to keep an open mind because he knew that Gov. Martin O’Malley was planning to introduce the marriage bill in 2012. In late summer, Manno asked Arora to join him at a press conference where O’Malley announced his plans for the marriage bill, but Arora failed to show up.
When the 2012 session started last month, Manno said he continued to reach out to Arora, culminating with an hour-long meeting last week before a joint committee vote on the marriage bill; Arora serves on the Judiciary Committee, which was considering the measure.
“I didn’t know where he was going to go that week,” Manno said. Arora ultimately abstained from voting in committee at which point, “I put my head in my hands and said, ‘oh no,’” Manno said. After the committee sent the bill to the House floor, Arora received multiple calls from senior Democrats seeking his support, including O’Malley and former President Bill Clinton.
“When he went to the floor, I was there in the House chamber to give him a hug and let him know he had my support to vote for equality,” Manno said. “The vote came Friday, I was on the floor, I sent him a text a minute before the vote. I believed at the end of the day he would put a green vote on the board and he didn’t. The chamber erupted in jubilation, rightfully so, but I was standing on the floor with my head hung because Sam had disappointed a lot of people.”
Arora has yet to publicly disclose his reasons for opposing the bill after once sponsoring it. He has refused repeated interview requests from the Blade and other media outlets since last year.
Joshua Lapidus, Arora’s legislative director, quit in protest Friday night just after the marriage vote in a scathing resignation letter obtained by the Blade.
“I respect you and your beliefs, however I cannot respect your decision to place personal religious belief over the roles and responsibilities of the stewardship the people of District 19 entrusted unto you,” Lapidus wrote. He added, “It saddens me that you are standing against the tide of history and ending your career over an issue that will no doubt be decided in the affirmative, with or without your vote, over the next couple years. So, I write this letter to inform you that if you vote don’t vote for HB 438 l can no longer work under your employ.”
Arora issued a brief statement to the Blade in response to Lapidus’s resignation.
“I don’t comment on personnel issues,” Arora wrote. “That said: Josh continues to be a friend, and I wish him well.”
Another one-time friend of Arora’s, columnist and Democratic strategist Karl Frisch, praised Lapidus for stepping down.
“I think it’s gutsy,” Frisch said. “It’s the right move and shows that we had allies working on our behalf in his office.”
Frisch, a D.C. resident, donated $100 to Arora’s campaign in 2010 and said he knew Arora socially for several years. But after rumors emerged that Arora’s marriage position was changing, Frisch said his calls and emails went unreturned.
“I feel personally betrayed,” Frisch said. “I don’t take candidates’ word for it — he was listed as a co-sponsor of the bill and filled out an Equality Maryland questionnaire [on marriage]. … I’m used to politicians lying, I’m not used to being lied to by a friend.”
After Friday’s vote, Frisch said he took part in a conference call with a group of “national and Maryland-based political operatives to discuss every tool we can deploy to send Sam packing in 2014.” Manno said he wasn’t on that call but noted that politicians have to answer to their constituents.
“A former boss of mine once said that politics is about loyalty — to people, ideas, communities. At the end of the day, that’s really what we do,” Manno said. “Politicians have to answer for what we do in the next election and we all have to answer for what we do in the next life and I try to keep that in the forefront of my thoughts everyday.”
Manno, 45, is straight and married but credits his upbringing in the diverse and gay-friendly neighborhoods of Chelsea and Greenwich Village in New York for influencing his views on marriage. He once interned in the Clinton White House for Richard Socarides, who advised Clinton on gay-related issues.
“Marriage is a terribly uncomplicated issue,” he said. “If you love people and want to see that spark ignite, you have to love everyone.”