Friends, Foes of Same-Sex Marriage Monitor D.C.'s Legislative Moves

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

With the D.C. City Council scheduled to take a final vote today on a measure to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, both sides of the issue are gearing up for a broader debate later this year on a bill to legalize gay marriages performed in the District.

For gay rights advocates, the campaign so far largely centers on an effort to remove the terms "gay" and "same sex" from a debate that ultimately could be resolved by Congress, the courts or voters.

Instead of having their supporters talk about same-sex marriage, advocates want the phrase "marriage equality" to be used.

And don't expect to see organizations that are easily tied to the gay rights movement featured prominently in the debate. Newly formed groups with names such as D.C. for Marriage and the Campaign for All D.C. Families will be the public face of the proponents.

"You don't want to turn people off before they hear what you are talking about," said Peter Rosenstein, a gay rights advocate. "We want to make it clear this is an equality issue. This is a civil rights issue. This is a family issue."

That poll-tested strategy underscores how, even in the overwhelmingly Democratic District, supporters of same-sex marriage remain nervous about their chances for success, especially if a proposal is put before voters. Gay rights advocates say they are learning the lessons of past defeats, including the decision by California voters to reject same-sex marriage last year.

"I don't think we should assume anything. This is going to be a hard fight," said Michael Crawford, executive director of D.C. for Marriage. "National organizations are going to spend a lot of money to divide us."

Opponents of same-sex marriage, who plan to pack today's council session at the John A. Wilson Building, accuse gay rights activists of trying to deceive the public.

"They know if they start talking about gay marriage, they lose," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, which plans to campaign against same-sex marriage in the District. "When they start talking about the homosexual agenda, they lose."

The Rev. George Gilbert, pastor of Holy Trinity United Baptist Church, said he and other opponents of same-sex marriage are ready for efforts to strike the word "gay" from the debate.

"It's not so much what they try to label it, it's what it really is," Gilbert said. "Pepsi-Cola in a Coke bottle is still Pepsi."

The bill before the council to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states is expected to pass easily; 12 of 13 council members supported it during a preliminary vote a month ago. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has pledged to sign it, but Congress gets 30 days to review it.

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