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September 08, 2009

Another initiative supporter denies opposing same-sex marriage

Gary Imhoff at says he hasn't taken a position on gay marriage, he just wants the people to decide:

I have not taken a position on gay marriage. I have taken the position that the definition of marriage is an important issue that should be decided by the public, and not imposed on the public by a council vote that the public is then forbidden to challenge. I believe that government officials are determined to impose that definition of marriage in DC. I am not sure what the result of a public vote would be, though I suspect that Massachusetts, which will have such a vote in November, and the District of Columbia are the two states whose voting public are most likely to support gay marriage. I am skeptical that the DC Human Rights Act determines that gay marriage is a civil right that cannot be addressed by an initiative or referendum (if it were, then the Human Rights Act in itself would have legalized gay marriages, and have made any redefinition of marriage superfluous). Nevertheless, it is obvious that the public in DC will be denied the right to vote on this issue.

Imhoff refuses to explain why only this issue, of all the issues on which the D.C. Council legislates, requires a direct vote of the people. His high degree of selectivity leaves little doubt that he opposes civil marriage equality for same-sex couples. The notion that one has no strong feelings on the subject while considering it absolutely essential to bypass the legislature and put the matter on the ballot makes no sense.

If you listen to some of the ministers leading the call for a ballot initiative on marriage, such as those in the Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference of DC & Vicinity, you will learn that they still haven't accepted the equality of women, and they oppose women serving as ministers. They are entitled, of course, to believe whatever they like, but they are not entitled to impose their religious doctrine on the rest of us. Gary Imhoff is on the wrong side of the law, the wrong side of justice, and the wrong side of history.

Happily, Imhoff is right on one thing: the subject-matter restrictions on referenda and iniatiatives here in D.C., which were put in place 30 years ago at GLAA's urging, make it unlikely that this issue will reach the ballot. I say "happily" despite my confidence that the pro-gay side would win such a ballot fight, because such a fight would be expensive and nasty, and because it is wrong for a minority's rights to be subject to the whim of the majority. Our representative legislature has the opportunity to study and deliberate on matters before voting on them, and that works better. If you think that frequent plebiscites are a good idea, take a look at what a disaster this has been for California. If you think, no no, it is only marriage that requires a plebiscite, well, I'll see you at the Board of Elections and Ethics hearing on the proposed initiative (not yet scheduled).

One more comment: it is easy for Gary Imhoff to embrace the idea of having everyone vote on my right to marry my partner Patrick. His marriage to his wife Dorothy Brizill is not threatened. (Incidentally, he says, "Dorothy has not written anything about gay marriage," but she was at the Board of Elections hearing on the proposed referendum on marriage recognition a few months ago; I don't recall if she testified, but I watched her working with the anti-gay ministers. It was clear she was on their side.) For years now, gay people who seek equal protection of the law for their families have been accused on that account of seeking to destroy the family and society itself. For Imhoff to give comfort to this ongoing effort to demonize us, while denying that he is doing any such thing, is reprehensible. Yet he portrays himself as the victim. That is a standard play from the far right's playbook.

Fortunately, the signs are that Imhoff and his allies are in the minority. Ward 5 advisory neighborhood commissioner Bob King, for example, has gotten very little support for his call for a marriage initiative. Incidentally, if the proposed initiative passed muster at the Board of Elections and its backers moved on to the signature-gathering phase, you can be sure they would insist that it is not anti-gay at all, but just a consultation of the voters. The fact that its passage would harm gay couples — well, how can you call that anti-gay? Please, stop insulting our intelligence.


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Amen and amen, Rick. And shame on Dorothy Brizill playing consigliere to bigots, oh, pardon, to those "concerned about the process." Just another shining moment for DC's fusty NIMBY brigade. This isn't a DCRA permit process or a non-compete city contract, Dorothy and Gary, this is my equality as a human being, and as a couple and family.

Imhoff has also invoked civil rights leaders in his non-opposition opposition of marriage equality. I guess he hasn't read some Julian Bond, John Lewis, or years ago the words of the late Mrs. King. In all of Imhoff's careful dancing, I simply smell something, the same thing that has assaulted the senses of a real civil rights hero:

"Cut through the distractions, and they stink of the same fear, hatred, and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry." - Rep. John Lewis

Mr. Rosendall's posting contains factual errors and false assumptions, so I feel compelled to respond in order to set the record straight. Mr. Rosendall asserts that since he saw me at the Board of Elections hearing on the referendum, and since I spoke to several people at the hearing, I must support the referendum, even though he admits that he doesn't even know whether I testified.

In fact, on June 10 I attended the special meeting of the DC Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE). For nearly twenty years, I have regularly attended the Board's proceedings, both its regular monthly meetings and its occasional special meetings. For the past twenty years, I have steadfastly followed the Board's consideration and the attendant public debate on a host of voter initiatives and referenda, including the initiative and subsequent referendum on overnight shelter for the homeless; the initiative on term limits; the initiative on horse-drawn carriages; the initiative imposing limits on campaign contributions; the two slot casino initiatives; Mayor Williams' school governance initiative to restructure the District's school board; the initiative that sought to restore a public hospital in the District; the referendum on assault weapons; the initiative on real property assessment and taxes; the referendum on certain provisions in Mayor Fenty's Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007; the medical marijuana initiative; and the initiative for a smoke-free workplace.

I attended the June 10 meeting as a reporter to gather information from both sides of the issue in order to post it on our web site, Therefore, I spoke cordially to people on both sides of the issue and got copies of their testimonies. Prior to the hearing it had been difficult to get information, especially from Reverend Jackson and his attornies, who are based in Arizona. Moreover, because the BOEE does not and did not then have a public information officer, since the departure of William O'Field in the spring of 2008, I worked with the DC BOEE staff to secure and distribute copies of the agenda and witness list to the press and to the people -- on both sides of the issue -- who were cramped into the overcrowded hearing room. I did not testify nor "work with the anti-gay ministers" as Mr. Rosendall suggests. Instead, I arrived at the meeting early and stayed late to speak with the Board members, the BOEE staff, and a broad spectrum of those attending, except to Mr. Rosendall, who was hostile and confrontational not only with me but also with several other people there. Mr. Rosendall is so eager to fight his enemies that he will invent them in order to have the pleasure of fighting.

Dorothy, I did not say that I didn't know, but that I did not recall, whether you had testified at the June BOEE hearing. It was a long hearing, and I was there for the whole thing, and indeed I subsequently published on GLAA's website every piece of testimony I obtained a copy of.

As to my hostile attitude: you have been consistently unpleasant since I first encountered you. After the hearing, you were standing with the ministers at the front and talking to the board chair, and I responded to something you said. That was the extent of it. You gave the impression of being in favor of holding a referendum. Your attitude then and now. I submitted testimony that was entirely civil and reasonable. I even talked pleasantly with an eccentric woman who was on the other side and kept saying she would pray for us. Your pose of journalistic neutrality defies your record.

I meant to say that Dorothy's attitude then and now conveyed hostility. I do not invent "enemies," nor is that the word I prefer for the opponents of marriage equality. Her own husband (whose opinions, obviously, are his responsibility and not hers) pretends to be concerned only for the people's right to decide (a concern he has been highly selective in raising), when the initiative he supports is plainly anti-gay in its content and purpose. Does she think I am inventing his opposition?

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