Nancy Polikoff

DC City Council votes 12-1 to recognize same-sex marriages from elsewhere

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | May 05, 2009 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: District of Columbia, Marion Barry, marriage equality, recognition of marriages from other states

Former Mayor and civil rights activist Marion Barry was the only member of the DC City Council to vote against recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. The bill will now go to Mayor Adrian Fenty to sign. From there it goes to the US Congress, which will have to decide whether to uphold the concept of "home rule" that allows DC to govern itself or to use this issue to score anti-gay points with constituencies back home.

Here is a summary of what councilmembers said:

Marion Barry: I prayed on this issue. Ministers and preachers in this town stand on the moral compass of God. On other issues I disagree with them. I support civil union and domestic partnership. I was one of the first people to support Jim Graham at Whitman Walker Clinic. My history is replete in supporting the gay rights movement. This issue should not be a litmus test.

Phil Mendelson: This is an issue of fairness and equality. Many people have discussed whether we should wait. DC is part of the US we have always recognized marriages entered into in other states. The bill is very simple. Says people married elsewhere are married here. This is about fundamental fairness. To do otherwise is discriminatory. It says they are less here.

David Catania (openly gay): Are Mr Graham (also openly gay) and I your equals? It is personal. It is immoral to oppose this. There is no justice as long as we recognize that some are more equal than others. Marriage equality will soon be a reality in this whole country. In our lifetime. There is no turning back. New Hampshire senate voted weeks after the house did. Maine Senate voted 20-15 in favor. The march towards equality is coming and you can stand in the way. Don't say I support domestic partnership and civil union as if to say I'm not such a bigot.I am your equal. I deserve everything you enjoy.

There is morality in equality and justice. We will be stronger when we are all equal. [See other comments I remark on at the end of this post]

Barry: I resent him saying I am a bigot.

Catania: You are not a bigot. Your position is bigoted. If I offended you I'm sorry.

Jim Evans: In 18 years here, I've supported every gay rights advance. What I do today is another step in that direction. I recognize there are those who disagree. There were those who disagreed in 1991. This is fair and just under the law.

Tommy Wells: As a Washingtonian I am proud of the city's progressive record. Marion Barry has moved us forward. He has been in front of a lot of the things. Churches are the safety net. They have long been an important part of taking care of the least of us. I do want to be clear to the residents of Ward 6. My moral compass points my vote. This is not a political issue. When two residents of the same sex asked if I would preside over their marriage it was a joyous occasion. I cannot tell residents such as them that they have a second class role in my ward or my city.

Jim Graham (openly gay): Let me be fair to the history. Marion Barry has been a steadfast friend of the GLBT community. In 1983, when there was little understanding about HIV and AIDS, Mayor Barry was with us at Whitman Walker. I have never forgotten that and I will never forget. I thank you every day it comes up. We part ways today. I support marriage equality.

Being able to vote in favor of this is a profound experience for me. Reaching the point where I can vote for this is extraordinary for me. This is just fairness. If you were married in VT or IA you would want to know it that would be recognized in DC. DC has an obligation to tell you that if you have a valid marriage. The famous Spagnoletti memorandum should have been issued. [This is a reference to our former attorney general who wrote a memo at the request of the former mayor on the topic of whether DC could/should recognize out of state same-sex marriages. Neither the mayor nor the AG ever released the memo to the public.] But it didn't happen. And it wasn't going to happen. Thank you for determining we had to move forward. I was married. Legally. For obvious reasons it didn't work out. I love her to this day. What is marriage other than an expression of love formalized between two people? I'm looking at people holding hands and I like to see that. This is a civil right. We are not imposing on any church.

Mary Cheh: I can't remain silent. We recognize marriages from all other jurisdictions. This is fairness and equality and justice. When we talk about protecting civil rights across the board, this is among them. In a way we are codifying the law as it already is. [My note: glad she said this! I completely agree] It is an honor to vote for it.

Muriel Bowser: I commend Catania and Graham. Many people will disagree. Many have talked to us. Talked about religious experiences. Even if you disagree with us, I'm reminded of the thousands who are our family and church members who also want the equality we enjoy. At a meeting in my community I was reminded, don't we all want to be treated equally. We don't want to send message you're not good enough. We are supporting equality among all residents of DC. Think about the people who won't tell you who they are. Think about our city being a welcoming place. Today I will support this because I want all residents because I want all residents to know we are in same boat together.

Yvette Alexander: When I was running for City Council, I went to Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and I said I was not in support of gay marriage. They endorsed me because they realized all of the good work I had done for the gay community. They did not negate all the work I did. Ministers are a good support to me in Ward 7. The ministers have upset me by questioning my Christianity. They are saying I am not a Christian - not a moral person. This is a question of recognizing what other states recognize. I still want to learn more about gay marriage in DC. Everyone is equal under God. I am going to vote in support of this. I am a Christian. God is first and foremost in my life. I ask the ministers and gay community to work together. I am a heterosexual African-American woman. I don't understand all the dynamics of the gay community. The religious community should not be required to perform this in your church. This is a civil marriage. The ministers have said they will run a Christian candidate against me. Know that I am a Christian.

David Catania said some other things I want to specifically comment on. He said he and his partner had been blessed, that there are couples who do not have the resources to protect their relationships. I'm tempted to bring the documents, he said, referring to wills, power of attorney, medical power of attorney, etc. He asked how many families can afford the lawyers for those papers.

My comment: Domestic partnership in DC already grants all the rights Catania mentioned to those who register. Catania surely knows that. Not only that, DC allows surrogate medical decision making by domestic partners even if they have not registered. (I'm not sure if he knows this.) The argument for this vote was equality and justice, not access to specific tangible consequences. I'm not sure why Catania said these things. I think they muddy the issues.

At some point the entire session will be available to view online here.


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Stephen Clark | May 5, 2009 1:57 PM

Nancy, your are mostly correct in your final observation. But D.C. domestic partnerships still do not convey every right, benefit, and obligation of marriage. The Council has yet to enact the sweeping provision that bestows every single incident of marriage and, in particular, they have not extended the common law to domestic partnerships, except on a piecemeal basis. I don't think that's what David was referring to, but it also isn't true that D.C. domestic partnerships are exactly the same as D.C. marriages or civil unions in other states--not yet, anyway.

Sorry, Ms. Polikoff. There is no nice ceremony for DC domestic partnerships. I went down two years ago to sign up, and a clerk in a drab office pulled out a faded xerox paper to complete and file, with three misspellings on the form, and that would be it. I have also gotten differing opinions from real estate title companies about having our house titled in both names, as TENANTS BY THE ENTIRETIES, and was told that "it is only for married couples. " Why should gays and lesbians settle for "separate but equal" even if you are correct? Marriage = Marriage, Civil Partnership has a different meaning, differing rights, in every state. If someone gets "civil partnered" in a state with few rights for the relationship, and moves to another state with more or different civil partner rights, I bet you need to get "civil partnered" all over again, before a court will say that both parties are bound to the mutual obligations of state #2 's additional obligations. I do not think that businesses and private organizations are bound by honoring civil partnerships or civil unions in DC or any place else. Marriage is another story.

Since Bilerico-DC Managing Editor Michael Crawford has been the leader in the push for DC's recognition ordinance, I thought I'd add in this statement he made yesterday to the press:

"We thank the DC City Council for voting to recognize the marriages performed in other jurisdictions as marriage in the District," said DC for Marriage Chair Michael Crawford. "This important legislation will help to strengthen families in D.C. and show that families headed by same-sex couples deserve equal treatment and respect under the law. We look forward to Mayor Adrian Fenty signing the legislation and hope that members of Congress will respect the choice by the D.C. City Council to provide recognition for legally married couples."