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Colbert I. King

A Test for Tolerance

By Colbert I. King
Saturday, January 1, 2005; Page A23

New Year's Day is not exactly the best time to pass along bad news, but as John Wayne famously said, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." Or, to put it in modern, non-gender specific terms, "One does as one must," which, admittedly, doesn't sound half as cool, but why begin this column by antagonizing some folks? Rest assured, that will come further down the page.

Now to the unpleasant news -- or glad tidings -- depending on where you come out on the issue: The District of Columbia could soon find itself invited to join Mississippi and 10 other states that have banned same-sex marriage. I speak truth.

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If the group calling itself Citizens for Marriage gets its way, we D.C. voters in 2006, in addition to choosing a mayor and assorted council members, will also be greeted with an initiative on our ballots to ban same-sex marriage in the District. For that distinction of dubious merit, D.C. citizens can thank Ward 4 resident Lisa L. Greene, who took it upon herself in October to submit a same-sex marriage ban proposal to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics in the hopes that the board would give her a green light to obtain petitions with the necessary 19,000 signatures to secure a place on the ballot for her measure.

This news, first reported in the Washington Blade, was brought to my attention by Rick Rosendall, vice president for political affairs with the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. Rosendall is alarmed at the prospect of subjecting to a D.C. plebiscite the right of two people in love to get married.

The elections board dutifully scheduled a hearing on the ballot initiative for Nov. 18. But Greene, on learning from a board lawyer about a defect in her anti-gay measure, withdrew the proposal with the promise that she will re-submit it once it has been properly lawyered.

Operating on my old Foggy Bottom neighborhood adage, "Fair warning is fair play," let's take Greene at her word, thank her for the unwitting heads-up, and assume she will be back this year with her proposed District of Columbia Marriage Protection Act. How should a D.C. voter respond?

For its part, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance intends to testify against the proposal if and when the elections board schedules another hearing. The group contends that the time isn't ripe for dealing with same-sex marriage in the city. After all, the District isn't issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the D.C. Council hasn't proposed legislation authorizing such licenses, so scheduling a popular vote on the subject is tantamount to seeking "a solution without a problem," Rosendall argued in a Nov. 10 letter to Mayor Anthony Williams and D.C. Council members.

Rosendall might have added that the District is probably the last jurisdiction on the face of the Earth that will ever authorize same-sex marriage, at least during the next several years, given the presence of George W. Bush in the White House and a conservative Republican Congress that must approve all legislation the city enacts. But Rosendall's and the elections board's dust-up over whether Greene's proposed initiative is legally proper is square business. That's what the board is empowered to do.

The larger question, now that Greene has tipped her hand, is whether D.C. voters want to get in bed with forces at loose in America that want to exploit religious and cultural differences for their own narrow, selfish, political interests. Greene, to no one's surprise, is reportedly being assisted with her initiative by the American Center for Law and Justice, which is the legal arm of that lover of souls, Pat Robertson. Greene argues, according to the Blade, that being gay is fine in her book as long as that person's sexual orientation is kept private. (Does that mean heterosexuals can get it on in public? Just asking.)

But Greene, an African American, said she's motivated to prohibit same-sex marriage in the District because gay marriage threatens African Americans. Greene told the Blade: "As an African American, I feel it's important to preserve the family. Statistics show African Americans have the nation's highest rate of out-of-marriage births."

Now, I don't hold myself out as an expert on all that ails the community of which Lisa Greene and I are biologically a part. I truly confess ignorance of many things of which I should have knowledge. So somebody help me. Following Greene's reasoning, will somebody please tell me how lesbians and gay men of whatever age, color, creed, country of origin or race have had anything to do with black folks having America's highest rate of out-of-wedlock births?

Don't get me wrong. I do share her apparent affection for marriage, having been joined in that institution with the saintly -- well, at least alluring and always lovely -- Gwen for 44 years come July 3. But it has always been my impression that babies are the result of a union between a man and woman, usually -- but certainly not always -- of the heterosexual orientation. But I could be wrong.

I also thought, again perhaps foolishly, that the absence of a man in the home during the growth and development of our young tykes had less to do with homosexuality and more to do with the fact that between 1980 through yesterday, we've had at least 7,391 murders in our nation's capital, with most of the victims being African American males. It's true that a few of those homicide victims, as this newspaper has reported, were not exactly of the type to be lusting after women, being themselves male homosexuals. But most of them were murdered by homophobes who live among us. Shut my mouth: Now I've gone from preachin' to meddlin'.

And we haven't even begun to count the thousands of young African American males who have been taken off the streets and placed behind bars for crimes they committed.

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