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« Rally Held Before D.C's Gay Marriage Vote | Main | My Take: How Today's Marriage Equality Vote Looks from Ward 5 Northeast »

December 15, 2009

Victory for Marriage Equality in D.C.


At about 2:30 this afternoon, the D.C. Council, on second reading, passed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 by a vote of 11 to 2. The bill now goes to Mayor Adrian Fenty for his promised signature, and will then be transmitted to the U.S. Congress for the requisite review period. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton assured us last evening that Congress will not act against the bill if she has anything to say about it. The bill is therefore expected to become law in mid-March after the 30-legislative-day review period is completed.

Thanks are due to many people for this historic victory: to all 11 members of the Council who voted with us, especially to the bill’s author, David Catania (I-At Large); to Judiciary Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who steered it through the committee process; and to Chairman Vincent Gray who guided it to final passage. Thanks to the many partners in our diverse coalition, including (in no particular order) DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality, DC for Marriage, the Campaign for All D.C. Families, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Log Cabin Republicans, the D.C. Coalition, the party ward committees and ANCs that endorsed the bill, as well as newspapers (such at the Washington Post) that supported civil marriage equality. Thanks to the Human Rights Campaign for its assistance with the Campaign for All D.C. Families. Thanks to Cathy Renna for her media work. (Pardon me if in my tiredness I have left anyone out.)

We are lifted up today by the spirits of friends and forebears who did not live to celebrate this moment with us, including past GLAA leaders Mel Boozer, Jim Zais, Cade Ware, and Mayo Lee. And we are mindful of the LGBT people who will come after us, whose lives will be easier because of what we did today.

As several councilmembers noted before the vote, our work is not done. Indeed, as former GLAA President Bob Summersgill, who was our lead strategist in preparing the way for this moment, Mayor Fenty’s signature will complete the easy part of our work. Ahead of us is potential Congressional action, which is likelier to come in the form of an anti-gay rider to next year’s D.C. appropriations bill rather than a resolution of disapproval, and our adversaries’ efforts in court. After the vote, our opponents pledged another referendum effort, and their lawsuit in the proposed initiative is already pending in court. We urge everyone to support the Campaign for All D.C. Families, which will coordinate the fight whether in Congress or the courts.

Our opponents are already lashing out with a stream of falsehoods and threats: they are not only going to defeat us in Congress and the courts, they are going to defeat all 11 of the councilmembers who voted for the bill. We have gone against God’s law. We have denied the people a voice. We are threatening the family and America itself. In fact, there is little indication that they will get much traction in Congress, and to the extent that they do, they are attacking D.C. home rule, which will not play well with D.C. voters. As to the courts, they will make their best arguments and we will make ours, and we have some first-rate attorneys on our side in addition to both the facts and justice, so we shall see. As to the people’s voice: first of all, we have a representative government, and every one of the councilmembers who voted with us has faced the voters at least once since going on record in support of marriage equality. The people, in other words, have already spoken. Furthermore, the efforts by Ward 5 ANC commissioner Bob King and by Bishop Harry Jackson of Ward 9 (which is to say, suburban Maryland) to stir up popular sentiment against the bill have fallen flat. Also, multiple polls give us reason to be optimistic that our side would win a ballot measure if it came to that—though such a battle would be expensive and divisive and we think it wrong to subject a minority’s rights to a popular vote.

As to God’s law, two points: First, our opponents have no monopoly on faith, as our friends in DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality have so eloquently demonstrated. Secondly, this bill provides for civil marriage, and does not force any religious organization to solemnize a same-sex marriage that goes against their religious beliefs. The fact is that our opponents wish to impose their disapproval of same-sex marriage on everyone else, while the bill passed today simply grants same-sex couples the same choice, and the same legal protections, that their straight brothers and sisters take for granted. Our opponents on the religious right have become adept at portraying themselves as victims, but the facts are against them. The Archdiocese of Washington, which dug in its heels and tried to bully the city into granting a sweeping exemption that would have gutted the D.C. Human Rights Act, has overplayed its hand and given the impression that it places its intolerance of gay people ahead of its mission to help the poor and the hungry and the orphan—while other clergy, such as Pastor Dennis Wiley of Covenant Baptist Church in Southeast D.C., have offered to step up and help fill any gap left by Catholic Charities.

As to the allegation that we are threatening families and America itself: We too have families. We too are part of America. The biggest mistake that our opponents have made is to underestimate the good people of Washington, who have not drunk from the fountain of falsehoods poured out by our adversaries. Even clergy who are not ready to support marriage equality have avoided Bishop Harry Jackson and his cohorts in droves, because they know that their congregations face real challenges like joblessness, homelessness, crime and health care issues—all of which take precedence over demagoguery on a divisive social issue that helps no one.

I have never seen our community as unified as we have been this year in advancing this cause. Our collective success has been built on a solid foundation of decades of advocacy and relationship-building with public officials, community leaders and opinion makers. We have planned to be ready for any contingency, as demonstrated by the campaign organization we have set up. We must remain vigilant and united in the months ahead to ensure that this victory is sustained.

One of the most moving moments today came in the hallway outside the Council chambers after the vote, when Lambda Rising owner Deacon Maccubbin got down on his knees and proposed to his longtime partner Jim Bennett. And I was happy to receive a congratulatory hug from Ward 8 activist Darrell Gaston, a member of an up-and-coming generation of new political leaders for our city and another in a long line of straight allies. My own councilmember, Jack Evans of Ward 2, noted how long a struggle it’s been, and in his thanks included past staffer John Ralls and current staffer Jeff Coudriet (a past GLAA president)—which reminds us to thank all the staffers, past and present, who have contributed so much to getting this right.

I expect to see many of you this evening at the Longview Gallery for the celebration of the bill’s passage. In any case, congratulations to all for an historic victory that was long in the making, and that puts D.C. in a position of leadership on this issue. We are not done yet, but we have done so many things right.

God bless us every one,

Rick Rosendall
Vice President for Political Affairs


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