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March 26, 2010

Summersgill corrects the record on D.C. marriage equality victory

Our colleague Bob Summersgill offers feedback in DC Agenda:

Re: “The guiding hand in winning marriage equality” (viewpoint by Lane Hudson, March 5)

I appreciate the accolades from Lane Hudson in the DC Agenda. I’m extremely pleased with our success in achieving marriage equality. There were quite a large number of people who contributed to our win and we can all take some credit.

I do have a different recollection of how our effort progressed. At the founding meeting of DC for Marriage, I presented the on-going incremental plan that I had been working on for several years, at first while representing the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) and later in concert with them, especially Rick Rosendall, who was critical to the success of marriage equality in the District.

The assembled group seemed very pleased with my legislative plan and the criteria that I outlined for when the Congress would not interfere with us and how we could deal with an initiative. They also agreed that the time to move a bill hadn’t arrived, but we could do a lot to prepare for that day.

DC for Marriage’s embrace of my general strategy was quite a relief. I had worried that they were going to push for a marriage bill right away, or pull some other stunt that would delay or harm our efforts. Under Michael Crawford’s direction, DC for Marriage worked to create the public support we needed for our win. Michael created a social media and traditional media campaign, a direct contact and pledge effort, and other outreach that resulted in thousands and thousands of supporters. Countless other people found ways to make a difference and grow support for marriage equality.

A legislative, judicial or ballot loss could have set us back a decade or more. Going too soon would mean that we would be delayed in getting marriage equality. There would be a time when all the pieces came together and we would need to be prepared.

GLAA, the Gertrude Stein Club, and DC for Marriage leaders all agreed in January 2009 that the time for a marriage equality bill was not right. By April, we all agreed that the time had come for the marriage recognition bill and by summer we all agreed that it was time for the final bill, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Equality Act.

The careful incremental strategy didn’t rush us forward, but it moved us forward with deliberate steps. Each legislative victory carefully changed the laws that could have been used against us while increasing the rights of couples. In the end, everyone was on board and recognized that the moment had arrived and we were ready for it. — Bob Summersgill

Thank you, Bob. Lane Hudson, while praising Bob, wrote as if GLAA and I actually hampered the cause of marriage equality — whereas in fact we and Bob had exactly the same strategy. If Hudson is determined to disrespect GLAA, he could at least come up with a more plausible narrative. Last evening, at a campaign fundraiser for which Hudson was on the host committee, D.C. Councilmember David Catania graciously singled me out for praise. Indeed, most of those who actually worked for marriage equality, including GLAA, have been appropriately generous with their praise. There are many people and groups deserving recognition, as reflected in the list of honorees for GLAA's Distinguished Service Awards that we will present at our 39th anniversary reception on April 20. But Hudson can take comfort in knowing that former Blade editor Chris Crain — a perfect exemplar of the know-it-all who doesn't — agrees with him. Crain writes in Letters from CAMP Rehoboth:

Primary credit for that mammoth electoral achievement goes to a grassroots effort by a group called D.C. for Marriage (dcformarriage.blogspot.com), who tired of the snail’s pace and incremental progress made over many years by long-time activists and pushed the envelope with local politicians who had given lip service to marriage equality but still ducked for cover whenever possible.

As with Hudson using Bob Summersgill, Crain uses DC for Marriage, an esteemed member of the marriage equality coalition (whose co-chair, Michael Crawford, is one of those who will receive GLAA's Distinguished Service Award on April 20), to score points against GLAA, to whom Crain is clearly referring but whom, like Hudson, he disdains to name. Crain used his paper to vilify GLAA regularly in 2004 for not embracing his preferred strategy of provoking Congress to stomp on the District of Columbia, which Crain naively thought would inspire people across America to rise up in outrage at the injustice. Of course, Congress did stomp on the District in the past (specifically, blocking our first attempt to repeal our sodomy law in 1981), and few across the country either noticed or cared. Crain's successor at the Blade (and now DC Agenda), Kevin Naff, stated last year that GLAA's careful strategy had been vindicated. Naff singled out Bob Summersgill and me. It is too bad that Crain and Hudson cannot be similarly gracious, but that really speaks more of them than of me and GLAA. A great irony regarding Crain was that, even as he attacked and belittled GLAA, his reporters routinely relied upon our expertise. A couple of outliers are not going to erase GLAA's historic role by writing revisionist commentaries.

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