March 09, 2010
A capital case for gay marriage
Posted by: Chris
Last week was one for the history books in the movement for gay civil rights worldwide. As of last week, same-sex couples are marrying in the capitals of four of the five most populous countries in the Americas, and each city offers an important lesson about what works in making progress on the mother of all items on “the gay agenda.”
In Mexico City, Buenos Aires and, of course, Washington, D.C., gay couples are now registering or entering into civil marriage, accessing a fundamental right already enjoyed by same-sex couples in Ottawa and throughout Canada. The only country missing from the Americas’ Top 5 is Brazil, where a patchwork of common law and judicial rulings extend some legal recognition to gay relationships in the capital Brasilia, and across the country.
The U.S. capital of Washington, D.C., grabbed most of the headlines last week, as the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts refused a last-minute attempt to block a gay marriage law adopted by the duly elected representatives of the District of Columbia. So much for the argument that “activist judges” are imposing gay marriage on their citizens; in D.C., it was gay marriage opponents who appealed to unelected judges to thwart the will of the majority.
Primary credit for that mammoth electoral achievement goes to a grassroots effort by a group called D.C. for Marriage, 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.
If you agree with that aggressive strategy, then take a moment to check out the national org Freedom to Marry, where Michael Crawford, one of D.C. for Marriage’s founders, is now heading up online organizing.
The other key player in the fight for marriage in our nation’s capital was David Catania, first elected as a gay Republican to a citywide seat on the D.C. Council and later quit his party when President Bush introduced a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage nationwide.
Allies are crucial to the fight, of course, but we have seen time and again that having one of our own at the table makes all the difference. The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund has taken the leadership role in electing out LGBT politicians to office, and has consistently maintained some of the highest non-profit ratings for putting donor dollars to use in actually accomplishing that mission.
As important symbolically as gay marriage is in Washington, D.C, the real impact is dwarfed by the availability just two days later of marriage to same-sex couples among the 20 million-plus living in Mexico City, the most populous city in either North or South America.
As in D.C., marriage equality was achieved in Mexico’s Districto Federal by the locally elected legislature, which defied last-ditch conservative attempts to veto the new law in court. Despite dire threats about a national backlash, the center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), which is a minority party at the federal level, pushed the gay marriage bill through.
The same courage hasn’t been displayed of yet by the center-left party that in firm control of the federal government here in the land of the free and home of the brave. Despite Barack Obama’s pledge during the primaries that, unlike Hillary Clinton, he would support full and total repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, a bill to do just that has languished for months in Congress.
Even Barney Frank, the powerful gay Democrat, is acting like he is a Democrat first and a gay man second, refusing even to co-sponsor the legislation for fear it would pressure Nancy Pelosi into actually expending some political capital on our behalf. After years of broken promises to push gay rights legislation through Congress, the Democratic Party at a minimum owes LGBT Americans the immediate repeal of the two anti-gay law signed by a Democrat, Bill Clinton: DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
Finally, and for only the second time, a gay couple in the beautiful Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires has tied the knot, after a deadlock in rulings by local judges was broken. Now that events in D.C. and Mexico City have put the lie to that old conservative saw about “activist judges” being the target of gay marriage opposition, rather than gay folks ourselves, it’s important to redouble our efforts here in the U.S. in the courtroom.
The most promising case is a lawsuit brought in San Francisco to challenge Proposition 8, which could lead to universal gay marriage rights throughout the country. The suit, brought by conservative legal kingpin Ted Olson and liberal David Boies, is itself a rogue effort associated with the newly founded American Foundation for Equal Rights.
Still, the good folks at Lambda Legal continue to achieve groundbreaking results that can’t be matched by any other national gay group, to forego the black tie dinners for once and get more equality bang for your buck.
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