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Same-Sex Marriage: Opposing Views

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David Catania and Brian Brown
D.C. City Councilmember and Executive Dir., National Organization for Marriage
Tuesday, April 7, 2009; 3:45 PM

Vermont on Tuesday became the fourth state to legalize gay marriage -- and the first to do so with a legislature's vote. Vermont was the first state to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples and joins Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa in giving gays the right to marry. Their approval of gay marriage came from the courts.

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And in Washington, the D.C. Council voted today to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, on the same day that Vermont became the fourth state to legalize same-sex unions.

David Catania, a D.C. City Councilmember who voted for the amendment to recognize gay marriage, and Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, who opposes legislation allowing gay marriage, were online together Tuesday, April 7, at 3:45 p.m. ET to discuss today's votes, their significance and national reaction.

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David Catania: Hello. Today is an exciting day for marriage equality. I am pleased that the Council of the District of Columbia voted today to recognize lawful same-sex marriage performed in other jurisdictions. I am also thrilled with the fact that the Vermont legislature overrode the Governor's veto of their marriage equality legislation. This represents super majorities of the elected leadership in both jurisdictions.

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Brian Brown: This is Brian Brown, Executive Director of the National Organization for Marriage. The Vermont House voted by only a single vote to override Governor Douglas's veto, a single vote (it requires 2/3rds to override a veto). This vote clearly goes against the peoples understanding of marriage. Common sense and basic democratic norms dictate that such an important question should have gone directly to the voters of Vermont. Instead, the Legislature refused to allow the people a direct say in the future of our most important social institution--marriage.

In D.C. the City Council moved sneak same-sex marriage into the district by recognizing same-sex unions from other jurisdictions. It's not likely that legally the District can even do this given DOMA.

Look forward to discussing more...

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Arlington, Va.: The question popping up on the blogs I have visited today is, how will the conservatives try to spin the Vermont legislature's decision? When other states have had courts decide that same-sex marriage is legal the howls of protest were that the courts should not be allowed to decide. Now that the Vermont legislature has decided to allow it, what is the argument? That only a referendum should be allowed to decide? I will never understand the opposition to this. If two people want to commit to each other and enter into a civil marriage contract why should that not be allowed? The arguments always cited about procreation (What about elderly couples or sterile people? Should they also be denied marriage?) or tradition (we had a tradition of slavery for a long time too) always seem to be so baseless and not persuasive.

David Catania: I agree with the premise. Vermont marks the first time that a legislature has affirmatively extended marriage equality without being prompted by a court decision. The District of Columbia will likely be the second jurisdiction to do so. For years, we have heard that activist judges are redefining marriage. That argument will no longer hold water once elected legislatures follow suit.

Brian Brown: The Vermont legislature refused to allow the people a direct vote on the issue. This is why the same-sex marriage advocates are focusing on Vermont and other Northeastern states that don't have initiative or referendum . . . they know they lose when the people have a free and fair vote. In 30 of 30 states the citizens have spoken up and said we know what marriage is and it is the union of one man and one woman. Just this past election in Florida, Arizona, and most importantly California voters have affirmed the common-sense definition of marriage.

Advocates of same-sex marriage want to avoid a direct vote by the people at all costs.

What advocates of same-sex marri

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Washington, D.C.: Brian Brown: Do you have any idea what Washington, D.C. marriage law states? Do you know if it says, unequivocally and without qualification, that marriages performed legally in other states will be recognized here? And do you have any idea just what DOMA says? (I'm fairly certain DOMA does not say states CAN NOT recognize marriages from other states, rather it says that they NEED NOT).

David Catania: can you clarify?

BTW a big thank you to you and the entire D.C. Council for the unanimous vote!

Brian Brown: Yes, currently marriage in the District of Columbia is only recognized as the union of one man and one woman. David Catania and others on the council used the current vote today to try and sneak same-sex marriage into D.C. by recognizing out of state same-sex unions.

There are two important points: 1. The federal Defense of Marriage Act passed overwhelmingly in 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton states that under federal law marriage is the union of one man and one woman. As a federal jurisdiction D.C. is under this law. The vote today clearly invites a lawsuit under DOMA.
2. The voters around the country understand what marriage is and want it protected. Any attempts to redefine marriage in the District of Columbia could be met with a referendum. I would expect, just as voters have in 30 states, that the voters of the District would vote to protect marriage.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Catania, does D.C. have its own constitution? If so, what are the protected classes in it (i.e., race, sex, etc.) Is sexual preference or choice a protected class in the constitution?

David Catania: District residents, myself included, are citizens of the United States of America. We are all entitled to equal protection under the US Constitution. The Council's actions today are rooted in over 100 years of settled law regarding the recognition of marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Specifically, the legality of marriage has long been subject to the "place of celebration" rule. As such, states will recognize marraiges performed in other states so long as they are lawful. This longstanding practice serves to protect families and children from arbitrary laws on the subject.

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Washington, D.C.: Brian, you say that it's "not likely" D.C. can recognize gay marriages from other states given DOMA. Didn't DOMA just say that states don't HAVE to recognize gay marriages from other states? I've never heard anyone make the claim that DOMA precludes states from recognizing marriages from other states.

David Catania: Correct. DOMA does not prevent a state -- in this case the District -- from recognizing same-sex marriages. DOMA simply amends the Full Faith and Credit Act of the Constitution to explain that states do not have to extend the protections of this Constitutional provision to same-sex marriages performed outside of a given state. DOMA is actually an unprecedented federal intrusion into what has been a long standing tradition of allowing these matters to be resolved by states consistent with the "place of celebration" rule.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Mr. Brown:

If all civil rights were put to a popular vote only -- since you claim that not only the courts but also the legislatures are not the voice of the people -- would it follow that you would support a majority vote of, say, Mississippians to outlaw interracial marriage? Polls have consistently shown such a vote would turn out against interracial marriage in much of the Deep South. Where do you draw the line?

Brian Brown: The civil rights analogy is simply false. Period. African-Americans voted overwhelmingly to pass Prop. 8 in California. Many African-American leaders I work with don't want the civil rights movement hijacked to redefine marriage.

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Anonymous: How would DOMA affect this law? How does the Full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution play into this situation?

Brian Brown: DOMA also establishes that marriage is the union of a man and a woman under federal law. Thus, same-sex marriages contracted in Connecticut or MA (and now Vermont) are not recognized by the federal government.

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Hoosick Falls, N.Y.: Why does gay marriage bother its opponents so much? How is my heterosexual marriage affected by it?

Brian Brown: Gay marriage does not just redefine marriage for same-sex coupes--it changes marriages meaning for everyone. Thus, in MA after passage of same-se marriage Boston Catholic Charities adoptions were SHUT DOWN. Why? Because the church could not adopt children to same-sex couples. The state said that this was "discrimination"---and allowed for now exemption. Thus, the state robbed Catholic Charities of the right to help our neediest children.

Examples abound. Ocean Grove Methodist Association losing part of its state tax exemption, etc.

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re: "Thus, same-sex marriages contracted in Connecticut or MA (and now Vermont) are not recognized by the federal government": Does this mean same sex couple will not currently be able to receive federal tax benefits that apply to married couples?

Brian Brown: Yes, it does. Marriage under federal law is the union of one man and one woman.

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Brian Brown: where the Wirthlins and other parent were told they could not opt their first graders out of classes teaching that it was the same thing for a boy to marry a boy as to marry a girl.

Or when a religious organization is punished, repressed, and marginalized because of its belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, this directly affects our religious liberty, one of our first rights.

Or when a photographer is fined for not being willing to shoot a Lesbian wedding...these all affect the rights of those of us who believe there is something special and unique about a union of one man and one woman.

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Anonymous: Thank you for being here today Mr. Brown.

"The civil rights analogy is simply false. Period. African-Americans voted overwhelmingly to pass Prop. 8 in California. Many African-American leaders I work with don't want the civil rights movement hijacked to redefine marriage."

I believe you dodged the question here Mr. Brown.

The person asking the question was making the point that sometimes people vote against civil rights if given the chance. People vote for unconstitutional measures if given the chance.

You stated that you don't think this is a civil rights issue, why?

Brian Brown: Because same-sex couples have the right to live as they choose, but they don't have the right to redefine marriage for the rest of society.

There is no civil right to redefine marriage to make make it the union of two men, two women, three men, etc.

If the basis of your argument is that people WANT or DESIRE this that what of those that desire unions of three or more, why not?

Marriage is based upon the fundamental reality of the need for society to bring the two halves of humanity, male and female, together to raise and care for the next generation.

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"The civil rights analogy is simply false. Period. African-Americans voted overwhelmingly to pass Prop. 8 in California. Many African-American leaders I work with don't want the civil rights movement hijacked to redefine marriage. ": Ummmm....civil rights aren't just for black people. The analogy is that gay people are entitled to equal rights as well. It doesn't matter whether black people want to discriminate against them as a class. That's just ironic, not a false analogy.

Brian Brown: Passage of same-sex marriage affects MY rights and all the rights of those who believe in the shared, nearly universal understanding of marriage requiring at least one man and one woman.

When teachers tell our children that our ideas of marriage are simply bigoted and tell us that we can not opt out...as in Massachusetts...

David Catania: I'm puzzled as to why anyone would believe that their rights have somehow been restricted simply because more people are permitted to enjoy them.

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Sunnyside, Queens, N.Y.: Let me get this straight, if you are a D.C. resident in a same-sex relationship you CAN'T get married.

But if you move to D.C. from Vermont, Iowa, MA or CT you WILL get marriage benefits?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but with this decision same-sex marriage is still illegal in D.C. unless you came from elsewhere?

David Catania: The legislation, which the Council approved on First Reading today, will recognize lawful marriages performed in the four states that permit same-sex marriages. The question remains whether District citizens can travel to those states and get married and return home with a lawful marriage. I contend that those marriages would be legal. The District has a statute which specifically voids marriages that conflict with our statutes. For example, the age of consent for marriage in the District is 16. If two 14 year old District residents travel to Alabama, where the age of consent is 14, and get married, their marriage would be void in the District. We do not permit our citizens to circumvent our laws by getting married in another state. Importantly, our law is silent on same-sex marriages. Absent affirmative "positive" law that would void a same-sex marriage, District residents that get married out-of-state would be legal here.

Brian Brown: Marriage is the union of a man and a woman in DC. This has been litigated in Dean vs. District of Columbia, I believe.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Brown:

Please address how no-fault divorce did not redefine marriage -- arguably to its detriment. Is rampant divorce by heterosexual couples not profoundly altering marriage as we know it? Is your organization working to reverse this trend, and remove no-fault divorce from the books?

Thank you.

Brian Brown: Yes, rampant divorce is damaging marriage. NOM's President, Maggie Gallagher has written extensively on the need to create a healthy marriage culture and curb our divorce rates

Redefining marriage does not help our marriage culture. In fact, it would take out of our law the simple idea that in general, children do best with both a mother AND a father.

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Seattle, Wash.: Gay marriage opponents always seem to try to move the bar when they are losing: When a court rules for gay marriage, they say it should be decided by the legislature. When a legislature votes for gay marriage, they say it should be decided by the people. What will they do when, as will certainly happen someday soon, a state referendum or initiative is decided in favor of gay marriage? Will they be able to say, alright, the people have spoken and gay marriage is legal, or will they seek yet some higher hurdle that must be jumped for equality to finally be granted.

Brian Brown: 30 of 30 states have amended their state constitutions when given the chance. Clearly, this is why same-sex marriage proponents are trying to focus only in states where the people don't have the right of direct initiative or referenda.

David Catania: Those opposed to marriage equality know that they are losing the debate. With each passing year, more Americans, especially younger ones, are rejecting the message of inequality.

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Washington, D.C.: Please explain the exact process that this bill by the D.C. Council (as well as a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the District) will have to go through at the U.S. Congress level. What are the prospects for success in that process?

David Catania: Once legislation is approved in the District, it goes to Congress for a 30 day passive approval. In order for one of our laws to be overturned, it requires a Joint Resolution of Congress signed by the President. If I am not mistaken, this has never happened in the history of modern Home Rule. In the past, Congress has used the appropriation process to prevent us from spending our local resources to implement a law that it opposes.

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Washington, D.C.: After 26 years together my partner and I are finally going to shop for rings and set a date. Now we just have to decide what state to get married in... or is D.C. ready to take the next step and let us get married here?

David Catania: Today, the Council took the first step in this journey. The legislation before the Council would recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in Vermont, Iowa, Massachusetts and Connecticut. The District will join Rhode Island and New York in recognizing lawful out-of-state marriages. The next step is full marriage equality and an affirmative piece of legislation that will make this a reality. I expect to introduce this legislation in the very near future.

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Herndon, Va.: What evidence of moral decay has there been in Massachusetts since the passage of gay marriage? At one time, they had the lowest divorce rate in the country. Has the divorce rate increased? What are the ill effects? Or is it too early to tell?

Brian Brown: Mark Stern the General Counsel for the American Jewish Congress has states that there is "a trainwreck about to occur" between religious liberty and same-sex marriage and that nobody "is trying to stop the train".

Well, we are working to stop the train.

Simply put, if you encode into the law that those of us who believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman are bigots, why would you not expect the law to treat us as such?

I've argued same-sex marriage advocates across the country and many will, when pressed, argue that my beliefs are the equivalent of bigotry.

So if the law will treat us as bigots what does this mean?

Can racial bigots get professional licence and run their practices along bigoted lines...NO. Can they get radio broadcasting licenses...NO. And the 800 pound gorilla, can they have tax-exe,mpt status...NO. This has been litigated.

This is using the force of the law to punish, repress, and marginalize those of us (and our oranization) who do not accept same-sex marriage. I've already listed examples.

This is a major, in my opinion, catastrophic effect of same-sex marriage.

David Catania: Again a very odd post. Am I to understand that Mr. Brown feels oppressed if he is not entitled to discriminate?

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Washington, D.C.: Don't you feel you are ignoring more important issues in the city to focus on a wedge issue that has no bearing on the economic or crime conditions of the city that are most important to residents? Nothing against marriage, or gay marriage, or anything like that, but is this really your priority issue?

David Catania: Not at all. The Council is absolutely capable of addressing more than one issue at a time.

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Passage of same-sex marriage affects MY rights and all the rights of those who believe in the shared, nearly universal understanding of marriage requiring at least one man and one woman.: If I am a Muslim who believes all women should wear headscarves, does the fact that American women are not required to wear headscarves affect MY rights?

Brian Brown: Apples and Oranges. There would be a religious liberty infringement, however, if the state told this hypothetical Muslim that she COULD NOT live and act on her religious beliefs by outlawing headscarves.

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"Marriage is based upon the fundamental reality of the need for society to bring the two halves of humanity, male and female, together to raise and care for the next generation. ": So you would have no problem with a law that banned marriage between a man and a woman who couldn't have children? What about those who choose not to?

Brian Brown: No, of course not. If such a couple ever did decide to adopt children a mother and father would be present. Further, they still unite the two great halves of humanity together, even if they can not bear children.

David Catania: Let me be clear! The world produces more children than it is capable of caring for! Thousands of children grow up without a chance because someone else makes a choice for them. The sexual orientation of the parent or parents is not important. Having a family that loves and provides for the child is all that matters.

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Washington, D.C.: If the basis of what constitutes a union are infact based on religious views, then why aren't they unconstitutional? Isn't there a seperation of church and state? So what if a few churches lose tax exemption, isn't it about time everyone starts to anty up?

Brian Brown: I understand marriage as the union of a man and a woman because of the fundamental reality that marriage is based on the uniqueness of man and woman.

Whether or not my religious beliefs help inform this understanding is irrelevant. And the fact that you think it is relevant is a little troubling. What I mean is in American public discourse it is best for us to have honest disagreements based upon the facts and arguments.

The moment we start saying, "Your motivation is really that you're a Catholic (or a Buddhist, or a Mormon, or whatever) and therefore separation of Church and state dictates that your opinion is invalid" is the moment we undermine our entire history of protecting religious liberty.

David Catania: The issue of civil marriage is very different in my mind than that of religious marriage. I believe that the First Amendment of the Constitution protects a religious community from having to solemnize a marriage that conflicts with their beliefs. Interestingly, I recently had a Rabbi tell me that the prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicted with his religious beliefs. He felt that the law's failure to recognize same-sex marriages infringed on his religiious freedom.

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Dayton, Ohio: Mr. Catania: Do you think D.C.'s recognition of gay marriages performed in other states would survive an attempt by Congress to overrule it?

Mr. Brown: Do you support a return to coverture? In traditional marriages (especially under the common law), a woman ceased to have individual rights or property ownership once married. This is, in fact, the tradition in most of the world, and did exist, for a long time, in America.

David Catania: Congress has ultimate authority over the District of Columbia. Whatever Congress decides, the District has to live with.

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New Richmond, Wisc.: Mr. Brown, it seems to me that your argument is rooted firmly in religion. What about those citizens who do not share your religious beliefs?

Also, it seems to me that the criticisms the religious right levels agains gay people are often based on behaviors like promiscuity. How can you condemn someone for promiscuity on one hand, while denying them solemn partnership on the other?

Brian Brown: People of different faiths and no faith at all, across wide spectrums of time, culture, and place have accepted the fundamental reality of marriage. It is rooted in biology not bigotry. Only a man and a woman can come together and naturally create and raise the next generation.

You can believe a lot of different things (or nothing at all) about God and still affirm this idea.

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children do best with both a mother AND a father.: Not necessarily. Putting aside the question of whether a same-sex couple can do as good a job of parenting as an opposite-sex couple, wouldn't stable, happy gay parents be better than two unhappy straight parents? Two hetero crack dealers? I'm not trying to be flip, but just because there's a mom and a dad doesn't mean that they will be good parents (let alone "the best"), so why draw the line there?

Brian Brown: The body of social science evidence supporting the idea that, in general, children do best with their married mother and father is overwhelming.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr Brown, interest comments regarding the effect that this had in MA regarding adoption and faith based charities. Are there other unintended consequences that are on the horizon or that we should be concerned about?

Brian Brown: Yes. Massachusetts is just the tip of the iceberg.

In England we've seen religious schools told that they can't hire according to their religious beliefs because they are "discrimination." In the Ocean Grove Methodist Association case, a parachurch group actually lost part of its state tax exemption because it would not allow a pavilion it owned to be used for a same-sex union.

In the schools, why would you not expect same-sex marriage to be taught if it becomes the law of the land.

We've only begun to discover the ways in which the law will come down up individuals and organization who do not accept same-sex marriage in jurisdictions where it has passed.

No one predicted Catholic Charities Adoption agency being shut down. I think that marriage touches so many areas of law and culture, that unless we stop the redefinition of marriage, we can expect many more of these examples in the future.

I think that whether religious or not, we should all care about religious liberty. And this is one reason why standing up for marriage is so important.

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David Catania: I want to thank all of the readers for their thoughtful questions. This debate will be with us for some time. I look forward to returning in the near future to continue the conversation. There are obviously strongly held views on both sides of this debate. For me, this debate is about simple equality and fairness. Gays and lesbians fulfill every responsibility of citizenship and should be afforded the same rights.

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Arlington, Va.: Same sex marriage opponents are fighting against demographic trends. Younger people overwhelmingly favor allowing gays to marry. Referendums support banning gay marriage now, but give it a few years and marriage equality will have overwhelming support when the question is put to the people directly.

What will you do then? When eventually, an overwhelming majority of the population supports marriage equality (a near certainty given current demographic trends) will you accept it as the will of the people?

Brian Brown: People grow up. They change their views. I'm confident that through education and highlighting the consequences of same-sex marriage we'll add to the 30 states that have already passed constitutional amendments.

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Brian Brown: It was great to have the chance to be a part of this discussion. If you are interested in getting involved with protecting marriage and the faith communities that sustain it, please visit www.nationformarriage.org.

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