D.C.'s same-sex marriage bill draws eyes across the region
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Angela B. Stepancic and Gabrielle J. Greene wear small, silver engagement rings that represent their love, loyalty and friendship. Last spring, the couple, who have been together for two years, decided to get married. They set a date, told friends and family and began planning an island vacation to celebrate.
But, like most lesbian couples, the two must figure out where to get their love legalized. Until recently, they had planned to travel to Boston for a marriage license. Then a bill that would allow same-sex marriages in the District brought the possibility of marriage closer to home.
Now Stepancic, of Arlington County, and Greene, of Bowie, along with other gay men and lesbians in Virginia and Maryland, are eagerly watching the bill, which is expected to become law by next month.
"It's very exciting that D.C. is moving toward passing the law," Stepancic said. "I think it sends a huge message. I think what happens in D.C. affects the whole country."
Although members of the gay community in the area agree on the bill's national significance, they disagree on how much impact the bill will have on couples in the region.
Some, such as Stepancic and Greene, both 27, say they hope to be among the first same-sex couples married in the District. They say they will get married as soon as the bill passes, even if that means immediately. They might also move to the District, they say, if it wouldn't be too expensive.
Others in Arlington and Alexandria view the bill as a symbol of change but say that a win in the District is much like a win in California. Both places, they say, are not home.
"I shouldn't have to move somewhere to get equal rights," said Bess Kozlow, president of the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance. "I think a sizeable group who live in Northern Virginia would go to the District and get married there. But, there are many people in our community who don't want to get married until it counts where you live."
She and others have deep roots in Virginia and say that they might remain and fight for their rights there.
Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Jay Fisette (D) said, "I would like to think before we die, we would get married in our own state." He and his partner, Bob Rosen, have been together 26 years.
Fisette testified in support of the District's bill at a D.C. Council hearing last month. He said he is also committed to fighting the battle for same-sex marriage from his home in Arlington.
Howard E. Ghee Jr., president of the Alexandria Gay and Lesbian Community Association, said he, too, is committed to fighting until Virginia passes its own same-sex marriage bill. "Those wishing to seal their unions in an official, legal capacity ought to be able to do so and do so proudly," he said. "We shall be heard until we are granted this right of legitimacy to recognize our relationships and unions."
Daniel L. Hays, vice president of the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said the local gay community is a regional one that includes Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District. That means his friends and fellow activists living in the District will benefit from the bill. That makes his attachment to the bill emotional but not so much personal, he said. "Having it take place in our back yard means a little because of proximity," Hays said. "But, I don't think I would ever leave [Virginia] for that sole purpose."
Despite their interest in remaining in Virginia, Hays and others emphasize that the bill is a significant step toward equality for gays nationally.
Greene and Stepancic, two young professionals looking to start their lives together, say the bill's passage would be a personal win. Stepancic said she often gets sad when she thinks of the battle they must fight for the right to wed. Greene often gets angry. Sometimes their feelings switch.
"It's inconvenient," Greene said, describing their inability to get married where they choose.
"I think it's more than inconvenient," Stepancic added quickly. "I think it's very rude. I think it's unfair and unjust that we have to go through multiple hurdles to do what other people can just get up and do."