Majorities polled in D.C. back gay marriage, medical marijuana

By Tim Craig and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 7, 2010

District residents are generally supportive of the progressive, activist social agenda being pursued by the D.C. Council, putting their stamp of approval on efforts by government leaders to enact policies while Democrats control Congress.

A Washington Post poll conducted last month finds majorities favor same-sex marriage, want medical marijuana to be legalized and support the creation of an elected attorney general.

Even when it comes to paying more for grocery bags based on promises that it will help save the environment, nearly half of residents embrace the new city policy.

The poll responses, along with sky high approval ratings for President Obama, help confirm the city's reputation as one of the most left-leaning jurisdictions in the country. City leaders said they felt constrained when Congress, which has the final say over whether a council bill can become law, was controlled by Republicans from 1995 to 2007. But with Democrats running Congress and Obama in the White House, the overwhelmingly Democratic council feels more liberated to set policy.

When the GOP was in control, Congress prevented the District from setting drug laws, blocked taxpayer-financed abortions for low-income women and would not allow the city's needle exchange program to proceed. Last year, the Democratic-controlled Congress lifted those restrictions.

The council, which has found a willing ally in Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), is moving rapidly to implement the programs.

"It's unfortunate the District is placed in a position where we basically have to wait for Congress to be one way or another," said Jim DiNatale, 39, of Adams Morgan, a supporter of same-sex marriage, medical marijuana and the bag tax. "It comes down to us being denied certain things, but now I am glad they are pushing everything as fast they can and as much as they can."

But overall support masks racial divides on many of the new policies approved by the council, underscoring that residents in majority-white areas feel far different about a variety of issues than their counterparts in majority-black neighborhoods.

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Although most District residents are in sync with the council in support of same-sex marriage, there is widespread public support for putting the question to a city-wide vote.

Nearly six in 10 residents say they would prefer to vote on the issue. City leaders have said a public vote would be discriminatory. "I don't think it should be a decree made by the government," said Pablo Barreyro, 72, of Chevy Chase. "I don't think it should be left to a small party of politicians. . . . I really wonder what the outcome would be if it becomes available for public input."

If it lands on the ballot, however, the District would be well positioned to become the first state-level jurisdiction in the country where voters embraced same-sex marriage, according to the poll.

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