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December 01, 2009

Odd couple after marriage-equality vote

Rickrosendallandharryjackson20091201 Before I explain the accompanying photo of me with Bishop Harry Jackson, let me note the victory today on Bill 18-482, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009. This was the first reading of the bill, and the vote was 11 to 2, as expected. One of the most eloquent speeches during the discussion of the bill was by Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr., the one "yes" vote who did not co-introduce the bill. He noted that his constituents are deeply divided on the issue, but said that the government should never disenfranchise citizens and that this was a matter of equal rights. As expected, Councilmembers Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) voted no.

Barry complained about the criticism he has received for his opposition to the bill, and suggested that his critics are opposed to democracy and support totalitarianism for trying to silence a dissenting voice. In the hallway after the vote, I spoke pleasantly to him (we have known each other for decades) and said that I support his right to dissent but that the right to dissent does not spare him from criticism. Since he had also touted his own nearly four-decade-long record of support for gay rights, I told him that his pro-gay record makes it that much harder to take his opposition now.

The bill next requires a second reading by the full Council, which will either be on January 5 or on December 15 if Chairman Vincent Gray calls an additional, year-end legislative meeting. After second reading it goes to Mayor Adrian Fenty for his signature, after which the Council will transmit the bill to Congress for the congressional review period. Barring adverse congressional action, the bill will become law sometime around St. Patrick's Day.

After the vote on the bill today, activists on both sides were interviewed by the media in the hallway outside the Council chamber. After the interviews were done, Bishop Jackson, one of our leading opponents, greeted me and asked how my partner Patrick was doing. (Last June, after he and I had debated on the Derek McGinty newscast on Channel 9, he gave me a lift back to Dupont Circle, and as we chatted I showed him my wallet photo of Patrick, a Congolese man who lives in Europe.) I took the opportunity to encourage him to support the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow me to sponsor Patrick for immigration purposes, and which I suggested is severable from the marriage issue. I also urged him to criticize the harsh anti-gay bill currently pending in Uganda. He indicated that he supports basic human rights and that he opposes measures like the death penalty that is part of the Uganda bill. He did not commit to issuing a public statement. I stressed to him that it is not homosexuality but homophobia that was introduced to Africa by colonial powers, and mentioned that ethnographic studies have found indigenous forms of homosexuality in cultures throughout Africa.

At this point, Bob Summersgill came over and asked if he could take our photo. Why am I smiling? For one thing, the marriage-equality bill had just passed by a vote of 11 to 2. For another, I was thinking of what caption Bob would put on the picture. (His Facebook caption is "First date.") Activist Wayne Turner commented, "Recruit Recruit Recruit!" Bishop Jackson can be quite the charmer when he wants to be, notwithstanding the fact that he has opposed us aggressively, made many false arguments, and during the council meeting today sat with representatives from the Family Research Council. In any case, I can assure my beloved Patrick that he has nothing to worry about.

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