On Same-Sex Marriages, the District Takes a Stand for Equality

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Last week, the District took an important step toward fulfilling its motto of justitia omnibus (justice for all).

By a 12 to 1 vote, the D.C. Council voted to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions. This legislation has been signed by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and now sits before Congress, where it enjoys the support of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Five states and seven countries permit same-sex marriages. The District is home to a vibrant community, and we should value its diversity. Some of our residents are same-sex couples who were lawfully married in other states or countries. Given this reality, the District has two choices: recognize these marriages as valid or strip these individuals of their legal rights and status. The council has concluded that fairness and legal precedent require recognition of these marriages.

Gay men and lesbians bear every burden and responsibility of citizenship. Plain fairness demands that our families enjoy the same rights and protections as others -- nothing more and nothing less! In any event, couples should not lose their legal rights simply by moving to the District.

The council's actions are consistent with well-established legal precedent regarding the validity of marriages. In determining whether to recognize marriage, the District has long adhered to the rule of lex loci celebrationis (place of celebration). Under this rule, if a marriage is lawful in the jurisdiction in which it is celebrated, it is presumed lawful in other jurisdictions unless expressly prohibited.

D.C. law does not prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages. To be sure, in theory, the District could adopt a law that specifically invalidates otherwise lawful same-sex marriages. Such a gratuitous action would not be consistent with our tradition as leaders in the area of human rights.

Recognizing lawful same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions is a step toward marriage equality, but it is not the last step. This year, I intend to introduce legislation that will permit same-sex marriages to be performed in the District. It is my hope that this matter can be decided by D.C. residents through the local political process.

Naturally, I am mindful of the fact that not everyone agrees with or approves of same-sex marriages. In particular, I appreciate that some members of the religious community oppose marriage equality and do not want to be forced to recognize or perform same-sex marriages. To this end, any legislation that I propose will specifically protect the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. All religious institutions will be free to decide for themselves whether or not to solemnize same-sex marriages consistent with their religious beliefs.

Ultimately, I am confident about the prospects for full marriage equality in the District. Once this is achieved, I firmly believe that the District will be strengthening our community and sending an important message about who we are as a people.

The writer is an at-large member of the D.C. Council.

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