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March 15, 2010

Barras attacks Norton for leading rather than following — but that's why we like her

Norton_eleanor_holmes Loose Lips today notes the latest column by Jonetta Rose Barras in The Examiner in which she claims that Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton ignores her constituents. One thing she cites as evidence for this is Norton's stout defense of D.C.'s marriage equality bill against congressional interference:

The political maneuvering of District congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton can be breathtaking. She's been known to brush aside her constituents' desires, favoring her own or those of her beloved Democratic Party.

Last week, for example, she proudly announced her victory in pushing back efforts in the Senate to mandate a public vote on same-sex marriage. Yet, the majority of District residents -- proponents and opponents -- believe the issue should be placed on the ballot, according to a poll released earlier this year.

I posted the following comment on the Loose Lips Daily blog:

Jonetta's criticism of Eleanor for defending the District against congressional interference on same-sex marriage is doubly obnoxious. First, Congress should not be imposing anything on the District against our own elected government. Second, Jonetta's repeated demand for a popular vote on marriage equality goes against our representative form of government and subordinates gay citizens' rights to the public's alleged right to vote on every issue including whether certain of their neighbors should enjoy rights others take for granted.

Protecting the rights of minorities has always been a hallmark of American government. Our founders set a higher standard than they were capable of meeting, which helped fuel our subsequent history of struggling to live out the meaning of our nation's creed. Since 1979 D.C. law has prohibited ballot measures that would authorize discrimination, and the very purpose of the proposed ballot measures is to discriminate against gay people. People like Jonetta insist that denying gay people marriage rights is not discrimination, just as the trial judge in the Loving case said Virginia's anti-miscegenation law did not discriminate because Richard and Mildred Loving were allowed to marry, just not each other. As to those who resent this comparison, I would like to point out that gay people have been participants in our communities across the city for a very long time, we are of diverse races and faiths, and we are entitled to equal protection of the law, and we are not going to "convert" or disappear. You really ought to overcome your prejudice and learn to live and let live.

What was at issue in the marriage equality bill that is now law was not whether gay people would exist, or whether we would have families; what was at issue was whether the families we already have would be respected and legally protected. And the reason we won is that we have participated openly in political advocacy and organizing here since the dawn of Home Rule. It is a little silly and patronizing for some to continue pretending that our city's overwhelmingly pro-gay legislature got that way by accident, or because the voters were not paying attention.

The polls Jonetta cites also suggest that the pro-gay side would win if a ballot measure were held; but there is no reason to subject our city to a rancorous fight fueled by deep-pocketed right-wing groups from outside the city, a fight that would play to people's worst instincts while doing nothing to solve real problems like joblessness, home foreclosures, loss of health insurance, crime, and educational inequities.

Jonetta has chosen to dig in her feet on this. Perhaps at some point she and others will realize they are on the wrong side of justice and of history. In the meantime, the broad-based coalition that won marriage equality in D.C. did it the old-fashioned way — we earned it.

Thank you, Eleanor, for being our friend and champion. This, of course, is in her DNA; she has spent her entire life fighting for equal rights. It can hardly surprise her constituents, who continue to elect her by wide margins, that she doesn't stop to check the polls before doing what she believes is right.


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