January 03, 2007
Marry me in D.C. in 2007
Posted by: Chris
My top New Year's resolution is to marry my partner in Washington, D.C., in 2007. I know, people say you should pick resolutions that are reasonably within reach. But marriage for gay couples in our nation's capital this year is, like so many other New Year's resolutions, mostly a matter of will power.
When it comes to legal recognition for gay couples, the District of Columbia already ranks very high. Washington's "domestic partnerships" offer many of the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, including child support, alimony, inheritance, legal standing to sue for wrongful death, immunity from testimony against a partner, automatic power of attorney for financial, medical and legal matters, and more.
Only marriage in Massachusetts; civil unions in Vermont, Connecticut and (now) New Jersey; and civil union-like domestic partnerships in California rank higher.
Much of the focus on the next states that might ramp up to marriage has been on places like Maryland, D.C.'s next door neighbor, and California, which have high profile marriage lawsuits pending before their state supreme courts, as well as New York, where the new Democratic governor supports full marriage equality.
But the political support in Washington is far more solid. Adrian Fenty, a Democrat sworn in as mayor on Jan. 2, is on record supporting full marriage, as did his predecessor. So does a clear majority of the D.C. Council, which includes one openly gay Democrat and one openly gay Republican who turned independent in 2004 after President Bush pushed for a federal marriage amendment.
Believe it or not, in Washington, D.C., of all places, the politicians aren't the problem. It's the gays — or more accurately, the local gay activists. Or to put it even more accurately, the few local and very vocal gay activists who make up the D.C. Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance.
For the most part, GLAA's leaders (since it has almost no active membership, per se) are old-old school. They have a long track record of lobbying local politicians, and they do it very well. They are smart and effective, at least on the battles they choose to fight.
But when it comes to marriage, GLAA's leaders have long suffered a failure of imagination and of courage. Their excuse has been the District's unique status in between that of a city and a state. Unlike other jurisdictions, the laws passed by the D.C. Council and signed by the mayor are subject to review by the Congress, which can effectively veto any law with which it disagrees.
Up till now, GLAA has argued that a D.C. marriage law would be subject to a near-certain veto by the District's Republican overseers in Congress — or worse, Congress could pass legislation blocking D.C. from passing a marriage law, which means it would require another act of Congress down the road to reopen the door.
But then came November, and the Republicans lost control of both houses of Congress. So surely now is the time, right? Not according to the final paragraphs of this Dec. 22 Washington Blade report:
GLAA spokesperson Rick Rosendall said the group — which supports same-sex marriage in principle — wants local and national gay leaders to carefully assess when it would be prudent to bring up a gay marriage bill for D.C., even under the new, Democratic control of Congress.
"It makes no sense strategically for us to dump on the Democrats' laps a marriage bill in the first year they came back after 12 years," Rosendall said. "The point is the numbers have not changed much."
Instead, the "activists" in GL"A"A seem far more interested in finding new homes for the seedy strip clubs displaced by the city's new baseball stadium than they are in marriage. In fact, therein may lie the problem. GLAA's silver-haired leadership probably relates more to those who ventured in to the now defunct Glorious Health & Amusement Club (a.k.a. the Glory Hole) than young D.C. gay couples aching to marry.
The arguments offered by Rosendall, the most intransigent of the GLAA bunch, make absolutely no sense. He counsels against any action this year, but next year is a presidential election year, which would be the worst possible time to try and push marriage legislation through.
What's more, "the numbers" have in fact changed quite dramatically because in Congress, having the majority means everything. The Democrats now control the committees that oversee D.C. and can block any effort to veto a District marriage law. They don't have to support gay marriage to do so; they only have to support states' rights and D.C. home rule — longstanding planks in the Democratic Party platform.
The Republicans have sucked all the air out of the gay marriage debate for three years now, claiming unelected "judicial activists" have decided the marriage question instead of "the people." In the District of Columbia, the people's elected representatives are ready to open up marriage for gay couples, a move that would be the first of its kind nationwide and enormously symbolic in our nation's capital — not to mention to those of us who are D.C. residents.
If only the "elders" in GL"A"A would step out of the strip clubs long enough to stop giving the politicians the cover to do nothing.
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