A Washington wedding

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

DO NOT underestimate the significance of this day. The District of Columbia is now the sixth jurisdiction in the United States -- the first below the Mason-Dixon Line -- to legalize same-sex marriage. It is a day of celebration for the gays and lesbians who have pushed for recognition of their relationships. It is also a day to mark the progress society has made.

Ten years ago next month, the nation was in an uproar over Vermont's creation of civil unions as an alternative to marriage equality. Then-Gov. Howard Dean (D) signed a law that didn't grant same-sex couples the right to marry but gave them the rights and responsibilities that accrue to marriage under a parallel structure. Marriage equality reigns in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa and Connecticut. Vermont switched from civil unions to marriage recognition last year. And now, the District joins the ranks. Because D.C. law mandates a three-day waiting period after receiving a marriage license, the first unions will take place March 9.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) sponsored the law. Of the 13 members of the council, 11 were co-sponsors, including Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D). And Mr. Catania had an early pledge of support from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). That they held together despite vocal opposition and court challenges from many quarters speaks to their commitment to fairness and equality for all of their constituents. And Congress thankfully did not block the law's implementation; the Democratic majority there has shown little interest in overturning a marriage equality statute approved by the city's duly elected representatives.

Here as throughout the country, same-sex marriage remains controversial. We don't belittle the strong feelings of those who believe, for religious reasons or otherwise, that marriage can take place only between a man and a woman. But we believe that the tide of history is moving the other way -- toward a recognition that gays and lesbians, no less than heterosexuals, are entitled to sanctify their love in marriage, and that society will be better off when that right is universally extended. Those seeking to exercise that right in the District are expected to overwhelm the system Wednesday. The media will tell and retell their stories. Over time, though, it is our hope and expectation that gays and lesbians marrying the one they love will be unremarkable as a spectacle and normal as a rite.

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