Nancy Polikoff

Voting on marriage equality in DC

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | November 03, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: David Catania, gay marriage, marriage equality, same-sex marriage, Washington D.C.

The hearing on marriage equality in DC continued today before the City Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. Last week there were theatrics by those opposing marriage equality, but there was also a common theme. They want the people to vote. That theme continued yesterday.

Under DC law, however, human rights matters are not subject to popular vote. So opponents asked for an "advisory referendum," even though it would not be binding. Last week that gave Council Member David Catania the opportunity to note that the only time such an advisory referendum has been held in the District of Columbia was on December 21, 1865, and the subject was giving freed slaves the right to vote. According to Council Member Catania, the vote was 721-1 in Georgetown and 6591-35 in the rest of the city - and that would be against extending the vote to freed slaves.

I don't expect a vote on marriage equality in DC to be anywhere near that one-sided in either direction, but the point is well-taken. The exclusion of matters governed by the DC Human Rights Act from popular vote was a wise decision made at the first opportunity for "home rule" afforded the District of Columbia. We have protected gay people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation in DC since 1973. Let's think...what would a referendum on that have looked like?

Then there is Rick Rosendall's excellent post on the subject on the blog of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. All the members of the current City Council who support same-sex marriage were on record before their last election, and yet they were elected. As Councilmember Mendelson pointed out today, seven members of the Council are up for reelection next year (including him). Opponents of marriage equality are free to work against members who vote for it. That how it works in a representative democracy.


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Nancy- Thanks for the post. I am wondering if you think that the bill needs an amendment to expand who may perform marriage ceremonies in the District of Columbia? The current law is rather limited (I believe), restricting the officiator to clergy and judges/magistrates. There are nicer places in D.C. to have one's wedding than Superior Court, and lots of clerics will not be agreeing to perform the ceremonies.
Do you think that the City Council would be open to the California procedure in which an individual selected by the couple can be authorized to perform the ceremony for a particular couple?

I've never heard anyone propose that for straight or gay couples. I confess that I do not know the law on who can officiate at weddings in DC. Come to think of it, in my 35+ years of living her, I have never been to a wedding in DC!