More than 200 people braved the cold and rainy DC weather to participate in a community forum to discuss a plan for winning marriage equality in the District. The forum was organized by DC for Marriage, a project of the DC LGBT Center and co-sponsor by Bilerico, GLAA, Gertude Stein Democratic Club, Human Rights Campaign, Log Cabin Republicans - DC and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
DC Activists Discuss Marriage Strategy
A panel of activists including Jon Hoadley, Executive Director of National Stonewall Democrats, Jefferey Richardson, President-Elect of Gertrude Stein and myself explained to audience what the opportunities and obstacles that we would face as we build a campaign to win marriage equality in DC. The discussion was moderated by Sean Bugg, co-publisher of Metro Weekly.
Disclosure: I am chair of DC for Marriage and member of the board of directors of the DC Center.
It is expected that members of the DC City Council will introduce a marriage bill in the near future. 12 of the 13 members of the City Council and Mayor Adrian Fenty are on record as supporting marriage for same-sex couples.
Gay D.C. Councilmember David Catania (I-At-Large) said he and several of his colleagues are considering introducing a bill in January to legalize same-sex marriage in the nation's capital if a majority of the Council's 13 members sign on as co-authors of the legislation.
Catania's move toward offering a same-sex marriage bill comes at a time when nearly all local activists have expressed support for such a bill and Mayor Adrian Fenty and all but one member of the Council has pledged to vote in favor of the legislation.
What was clear at the meeting is that there is a strong feeling among LGBT residents of the District that marriage is a basic civil right that should be accorded to same-sex couples. Even those who questioned whether or not introducing a bill early in the next legislative session is the best timing were supportive of the goal.
Because of the unique political situation in the District, local activists will have to develop strategies to get the bill through the City Council and signed into law by the mayor, defend an attempt to repeal a law through a ballot referendum and fend off intervention from members of Congress. Congress has oversight over the laws pass by the DC City Council and can prevent or delay a marriage law from taking effect.
DC currently has one of the strongest domestic partnership laws in the country which provides same-sex couples essentially the same rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples that opposite-sex marry couples enjoy under city law.
The process for getting a marriage ban on the ballot in DC is difficult, but not impossible.
Under the city's election law, residents who seek to use the referendum process to overturn a gay marriage law -- or any law passed by the Council -- must also navigate a series of additional hurdles during that same time period before they can begin to collect signatures.
Among other things, a proposed referendum must be published in the D.C. Register, and 10 days must be set aside to allow opponents to challenge the referendum on legal grounds. More time would be expended to allow referendum opponents to challenge the validity of the petition signatures.
In addition to requiring signatures from 5 percent of the city's registered voters, about 21,000 signatures, the law requires those signatures to be dispersed in such a way that 5 percent come from at least five of the city's eight wards.
At the forum people also signed the DC for Marriage pledge to show their support.
Additional meetings will be occurring soon to deepen the strategy and to get people to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
To get involved, email Michael Crawford at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the recent news stories for more information on marriage in DC:
Washington City Paper: Wedding Planners