Guest Blogger

Marriage Recognition in DC: Business as Usual?

Filed By Guest Blogger | April 08, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Bob Summersgill is a founding member of DC for Marriage and an advocate for gay rights for the past 20 years.

Thumbnail image for Bob Summersgill.jpgBig news yesterday, after Vermont's legislature overrode the Governor's veto on marriage equality, D.C.'s Council had a preliminary--but unanimous--vote to respect the laws of other states and countries recognizing married same-sex couples.

My Facebook friends were commenting on comments. Bloggers blogged at each other. Twitter was all atwitter. And I got interviewed by the least professional local news outlet.

They said, "How exciting. How dramatic. What a blow for human rights. It was a monumental move towards equality. The shackles of oppression are falling away." Others, feeling that we had over-reached, braced in anger or fear for the inevitable backlash that might see our rights stripped and our lofty goals dashed.

Or was it just business as usual in D.C.?

I watched or recorded all of the local TV news shows in D.C. The story was either the third or fourth in the line up. The latest details of a grisly murder and the President's visit to Iraq topped the reports. One station bounced from the weather to marriage recognition to sports. All with Ken and Barbie smiles.

The Chair of the Council issued a routine press release on the highlights of the historic legislative session. Marriage recognition was the in the fourth paragraph, after the lead story about approved funding for a new bridge. At least we got in ahead of the rejection of the Mayor's appointments to the Public Employee Relations Board.

In the morning, we made the front pages of the Washington Post and the Washington Times, but below the fold on each. Nationally, there were stories about Vermont with D.C. mentioned as a minor detail in a variety of newspapers, but in my spot checking of various papers I didn't see too much coverage of the story.

Tomorrow, the issue will likely be out of the news cycle. Next month, when the D.C. Council has a final vote, the bill may not generate any mainstream news at all. The signing by the Mayor could get a mention, but probably nothing beyond the local gay press and tweets.

And that's a good thing.

The sky isn't falling. No radical change is occurring. A minor tweak in D.C. law gives recognition to marriages from other jurisdictions. It is quite nice and meaningful for those who are or may want to marry. It is a small step forward for our families, but it really is business as usual to most people.

As the Council vote rapidly becomes non-news, the feared backlash from Congress becomes increasingly less worrisome. Within two months, New Hampshire's Senate will have taken up the issue of marriage equality. Maine will have taken a step or two. California's Supreme Court will have ruled on the validity of Prop 8 and the marital status of 18,000 couples. Will D.C.'s recognition be mentioned at all? Perhaps, but only in a list of places that have taken some sort of action. The country will have moved on, and so will, I hope, the Congress.

Sometimes we think too highly of ourselves and think that everyone cares about us and what we are doing. Granted, that is the very basis of Twitter, Paris Hilton's fame, and most reality shows, but in the end, most people just don't care. And fewer and fewer people care whether or not we get married. Many politicians are finding that there isn't a downside to voting for marriage equality. The country is starting to move on. This is last week's news.

The faked outrage from the usual bad guys wasn't much more that moaning and press releases. Sure, the Family Research Center and Focus on the Family will get a boost in fundraising. We'll see a few angry talking heads and some advertisements predicting the end of the family. We won't be seeing a mass movement to take away our rights. The steady flow of opinion is in our favor.

Marriage recognition isn't going to generate a local backlash. No Councilmembers will lose their seat because of this vote, and we are not going to see a referendum. Recognizing existing marriages from far away places like Iowa and Connecticut don't concern the local ministers. This is a town where Whites and Blacks, gays and straights vote, donate money, and campaign for each other. Not everyone loves each other by any means, but gays aren't scary far away monsters, and the main rancor around Churches isn't theology, it's parking. We're likable enough.

Councilmember David Catania may still introduce a marriage equality bill in D.C. this year. Expect almost all the Council to line up behind him. It is probably still too early for that not to generate a local or Congressional backlash, but within two years, we should be there.

If you are still worried, angry, or scared that we are going too fast, talk to Catania. He is convinced that only four people are opposed to moving right now on marriage equality.

You should also probably get involved with DC for Marriage and help build grassroots network that we will need when Catania does introduce that bill.

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as always, articulate and rational.....nice commentary!

christofer | April 8, 2009 6:00 PM

Actually, what makes the D.C. vote relevant is that the city council in our nation's capitol is powerless to enact a law without Congress's approval, meaning that what happened yesterday in D.C. is essentially the first step in forcing Congress to take up the federal DOMA law this summer. There is no conceivable way that Congress can approve D.C.'s recognition of out-of-state gay marriage without also recognizing that the U.S. Federal Government should do the same.

So, while I agree with your central thesis that it's good that we're not seeing a "sky is falling" approach in the mainstream media, it's important to note that right-wing groups are getting very geared up in the wake of the past weeks' events. They understand that this *will* be played out on the national stage this year, and we would be in big trouble if we (those who support marriage equality for all) didn't respond in-kind.

Let's not let what happened in California happen again. Let's stay one step ahead of the right-wing crowd by first understanding the implications of what just happened and then taking preemptive steps to ensure the momentum continues.