Congressional romance: 'You're the closest to heaven that I've ever been'

Husbands and wives play a unique role in politics: partner, fellow campaigner and, frequently, primary caregiver for a couple's children while the elected spouse maintains a grueling schedule.

And while buttoned-up Capitol Hill may not have a reputation as a hotbed for romance, scratch the surface and there are more than a few love stories in the halls of Congress.



Perhaps the best-known is that of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and Capt. Mark Kelly, her astronaut husband. Giffords and Kelly met in 2003, but didn't have their first date until a year later. They were married in 2007, at which time Kelly told The New York Times that his wife had it all: "Beautiful, smart, hard-working, balanced, fun to be with, and she laughed at my jokes." 



Kelly gave Giffords a wedding band inscribed, "You're the closest to heaven that I've ever been." For the past month, Kelly has been by his wife's side as she recovers from a Jan. 8 gunshot wound to the head, but he said recently he’ll return to space on a final mission in April.



Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the dean of the House, and his wife, automobile lobbyist Debbie Dingell, are a well-known Washington power couple, but Debbie Dingell tells The Detroit News her husband had to ask her out "15 times" before she said yes.

According to Rep. Dingell, the key move on his part was helping her fix a door in her house. She said it was inviting her to the ballet. They were married in 1981 and have been nearly inseparable ever since. 



Reps. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.) and Connie Mack (R-Fla.) have Congress to thank for getting them together in the first place. Both divorced, they began dating in 2005 while they were in office, and married in a small ceremony with 35 guests in 2007. Connie Mack proposed to his outdoorsy bride during a camping trip to Arches National Park in Utah. 



Some members of Congress choose to make their affections known in speeches to their colleagues. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) was downright sappy last year on the Senate floor as he thanked his wife, Carolyn, for 41 years of marriage.

Coburn told his colleagues he met his wife when she was only 6 years old, in 1954, and was best friends with her until they fell in love. Coburn noted "how much stronger she has made me as a man, how she has completed every aspect of my life ... and the gift she gave me of three wonderful daughters." 



One of the Senate's best-known romantics was the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). Byrd, who died last year, spoke frequently to colleagues about his wife, Erma Byrd, whom he called "the diamond" of his life.



On the occasion of their 65th wedding anniversary in June of 2002, Byrd described his wife as "a priceless treasure, a multifaceted woman of great insight and wisdom, of quiet humor and common sense. She is the reservoir of serenity at which one can slake the thirst of a stressful day. I can only thank her and thank the Creator that she has put up with me for 65 years and now one week."



Another romantic public speaker is Rep. Jane Harman's (D-Calif.) husband, electronics magnate and Newsweek magazine owner Sidney Harman, who is known to recite Shakespeare at dinner parties in his wife's honor.

Harman's favorite lines for toasting his wife, whom he calls "Janie," are from Shakespeare's King John.

"He is the half part of the blessed man;/ Left to be finished by such as she;/ And she a fair divided excellence./ Whose fullness of perfection rests in him." (Act II, Scene 1)



The Harmans were married in 1980, and despite the fact that Sidney Harman is 26 years his wife's senior, friends of the couple say Jane Harman is the one who has to hustle to keep up with her spouse, now 92. Nonetheless, Sidney Harman is fond of telling people that he has "learned very well how to walk a good yard behind my wife."