Council talks gay wedding bells

November 20, 2008

For supporters of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia, this year’s election was seen as particularly significant. Several local media outlets, including the Washington Blade, speculated that if Democrats won by large margins and Proposition 8 were defeated in California, the D.C. Council would pass a same-sex marriage bill as early as January 2009. But though Democrats did win the Presidency and make significant gains in Congress, the passage of Proposition 8 and other anti-same-sex marriage ballot measures leaves the future of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia uncertain.

A majority of D.C. City Council members, as well as Mayor Adrian Fenty (D), have publicly voiced support for same-sex marriage, so a bill to legalize it would almost certainly pass. But some supporters fear that even if the Council and the Mayor approve a same-sex marriage provision, it could face challenges from Congress, which still has the power to intervene in local issues, or from a ballot measure similar to Proposition 8.

“Here in D.C., one of the challenges we have to deal with is if we pass the law, which [the Council] undoubtedly will eventually, is that Congress could interfere,” Michael Crawford, Chair of D.C. for Marriage, a group that lobbies for equal rights for same-sex couples, said. “There really is no ideal time for us because right now we still need approval from Congress.”

But David Mariner, Executive Director of the D.C. Center, a local LGBTQ organization, worried that if D.C. legalized same-sex marriage and then faced a legal challenge from Congress or a ballot initiative, gay couples could lose some of the domestic partnership benefits that they currently enjoy. According to Mariner, same-sex couples have “just about everything but marriage by name” and an ill-timed move could jeopardize that.

He also said that according to an estimate by the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, an LGBTQ advocacy group, it could cost as much as $10 million to defeat a ballot measure in D.C.

Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who along with David Catania (I-At Large) was one of the Council members rumored to be likely to introduce the legislation, wrote in an email that D.C. might be impacted by the passage of Proposition 8. Graham also believes that legislation in D.C. might be more successful if similar legislation in New York, where the State Senate now holds a strong Democratic majority, is also successful.

“If New York goes first, that might pave the way for us,” Graham wrote. “We have to work to build a consensus on the Council on the issue of same-sex marriage. It’s time to go forward with this, but we have to strategize so that we’re all in sync. I think a bill should come from Chairman [Vincent] Gray with the support of the Council.”

According to th e blog, Catania said at the 2008 GLBT Economic Development Summit last Sunday that he still believed that a same-sex marriage bill would be introduced in January. David Catania’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Crawford said that the LGBTQ community must work to ensure they will be able to defend against potential challenges by reaching out to the wider community to combat misconceptions he thinks some may have about legalized same-sex marriage. With the preparation work Crawford said still needs to be done, he doesn’t see January 2009 as the optimal time to introduce a bill.

Feras Sleiman, a spokesperson for Fenty, wrote in an email that D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles will monitor “every angle of the same-sex marriage issue” in the wake of legalized gay marriage in Connecticut and Massachusetts as well as the passage of Proposition 8.

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