Gay Marriage Bill Introduced in District

Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 8, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Tim Craig was online Thursday, Oct. 8, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the gay marriage bill to allow same-sex couples to wed in the District, which was introduced by City Councilmember David Catania (I-At Large) on Tuesday.


Tim Craig: Good afternoon. Its going to be a busy couple weeks at the John A. Wilson Building as the City Council gears up to legalize same-sex marriage. With 10 of 13 council members behind the proposal, its almost certain to pass the council. The one wild card could be whether gay marriage opponents succeed in forcing the issue onto the 2010 ballot. Then, of course, there is always Congress. But ready to take some questions.


Washington, D.C.: Why do you think that the Human Rights Campaign is against a vote? Is there a belief out there that the general public will make a wrong decision?

Tim Craig: The argument against a vote is that a civil right should not be left up to a majority point of view.

Although they make the connection in a delicate way, they reference how civil rights gains in the South in the 1950s and 1960s would have stalled if left up to the will of the voters.

The Human Rights Campaign appears to be backed by DC law. Decades ago, City leaders inserted a provision into the code stating a referendum cannot be held on issue involving the Human Rights Act. Among other things, the act protects gays and lesbians from discrimination.


Washington, D.C. : Doesn't D.C. already allow domestic partnerships that give gay couples the same rights? Why does D.C. need to re-define marriage?

Tim Craig: Yes, D.C. has one of the most progressive domestic partnership laws in the country. The District has recognized domestic partnerships since around 1992, but a dispute with GOP leaders in Congress withheld funding for the program until earlier this decade. There are very few - if any - legal provisions under DC law that a married couple now receives that a couple in an official domestic partnership doesn't.

If the gay marriage bill becomes law, the District will no longer have domestic partnerships. But anyone who currently has one can have it converted to a marriage free of charge.

Why change? Gay rights activists want to be considered equal. And, to them, that means having a right to a civil marriage, the same right that heterosexuals have.


Washington, D.C.: Now that the National Organization for Marriage has moved to D.C., have they organized a significant rebuttal towards opposing the Gay Marriage bill?

Tim Craig: No. In my opinion, the opponents of same-sex marriage have been fairly muted in their organizing efforts. Yes, there are a dozen or so ministers who are speaking up a lot about the issue. But I have yet to see much evidence they are gaining much traction. The movement got a bit of a boost last month when the Archbishop of Washington, Donald Wuerl, spoke up forceably against same-sex marriage. But they have organize into a political force that is strong enough to scare the city council into slowing down on the issue.


Washington, D.C.: Who are the ten council members who support the bill? Who are the three council members who oppose the bill?

Tim Craig: David A. Catania (I-At large) is the chief sponsor.

The co-sponsors are the other at-large members of the council -- Michael A. Brown (I), Kwame R. Brown (D) and Phil Mendelson (D) - and council chairman Vincent C. Gray (D)).

Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) are also supporting the measure,

The three members who are not listed as sponsors are -Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7.

Alexander, Barry and Thomas all represent areas with higher percentages of black voters. Thomas represents Northeast Washington and Barry and Alexander represent Southeast.

But just because they are not co-sponsors, doesn't mean they will not vote for the final bill. Its still possible there could be a 13-0 vote in favor of same-sex marriage. Not likely, but not impossible either.


Upper Marlboro, Md.: Many, many black people are insulted by the desire of homosexuals to equate their sexual predilections with race and/or skin color. There are also many who feel that tolerance is a word that is meant to be used in it's oldest meaning: to put up with. Many of us have no need to keep homosexuals from engaging in civil unions, but marriage, and the assumption that the institution must be changed to include them because homosexuality is the same as 'blackness' and therefore this is a civil rights issue, that is insulting. They make no friends with that stance.

Tim Craig: This is an ongoing debate within both the African-American and gay communities. I know many gay leaders are sensitive of this point of view. And I know many African-Americans - even those supportive of same-sex marriage - share your views when it comes on this point. On the hand, many in the GLBT community feel strongly that struggle can easily be equated to the civil rigths struggle.


Capitol Hill, D.C.: My partner and I have been in a loving, committed, monogamous relation for almost 10 years. We're getting legally married (civil ceremony)in Boston at the end of this month and our marriage will be recognized by the D.C. government. We have no intention of interfering with anyone's church marriage or religious beliefs. It's a strawman argument that same-sex marriage is going to affect anything at all, other than our own security and peace of mind.

Tim Craig: I'll post your comment for others to review.


Alexandria, Va.: What about Marion Barry? Is he in favor? He's in the hospital now, isn't he? Which way will he go on it?

Tim Craig: Marion Barry told me the day before he went into the hospital he will not be voting for Catania's bill. But Barry stressed he would bitterly opposed to any effort by members of Congress to overturn the legislation once it is passed. Knowing Barry, however, you never can sure how he will vote until the moment arrives. I wouldn't rule him out yet as a possible vote in favor. If supporters can get Alexander and Thomas on board, will Barry really want to be remembered as the only council member to vote no? I'm not so sure he will, but we'll find out in about a month or two.


Cheverly, Md.: I hear people saying that legalizing same-sex marriage will not impact my marriage...but won't children attending public schools in D.C. be taught that marriage is between any two adults and thus impact my family?

Tim Craig: I don't know the answer to this, but I imagine that the DC public school system already has a fairly progressive curriculm when it comes to discussing this issue with students. The District has one of the highest percentage of same-sex couples in the nation, and a growing number of them are raising children. There are already lots and lots elementary school children at schools in Northwest who have two dads or two moms.


Washington, D.C.: Marriage is not a Civil Right! It is a legal contract states allow two people to enter into.

NOT a civil right...that term has been unfortunately watered down enough!

Tim Craig: I will post so others can review your comment


Washington, D.C.: How many states currently allow same-sex couples to get married? How many have barred same-sex marriages?

Tim Craig: Same-sex marriages are performed in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont. They will be legal in New Hampshire in January. The Maine legislature has approved same-sex marriage, but a referendum will be held on the measure in November.


Washington, D.C.: You say that opponents of same-sex marriage have not gotten traction, but if three council members have backed off, isn't that evidence of some movement?

Tim Craig: They have backed off being listed as co-sponsors. But it's only 3 out of 13. And the three who are not cosponsors represent specific communities.

If the anti-gay marriage movement were strong, they would also be having some influence with the city council members who are elected citywide. But they are not. All five city officials elected citywide - Council chairman Gray, the four-at large council members and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) - remain strong supporters of the same-sex marriage legislation.


Arlington Gay: To Upper Marlboro. Coretta Scott King disagreed with you. And for the record, I was born gay. And I married my partner of almost 11 years ago over a year ago and the world did not end.

People need to understand we are asking for the civil marriage contract. NOT Holy Matrimony.

Tim Craig: I will post for Upper Marlboro to review


Capitol Hill, D.C.: As along-time D.C. resident, nothing the Council does surprises me. But I'm wondering why the City Council is in such a hurry to get this passed? I'm really upset about what's going on with Metro, the D.C. budget, and public schools. Where's the outrage over 400 public school employees being RIFFed? We need to deal with these issues first.

Tim Craig:

Gay rights supporters will argue they have waited long enough. If it was just up to city leaders, and Congress wasn't a factor, the District probably could have moved towards legalizing same-sex marriage several years ago.

But supporters decided not to pursue the issue, in part because the Republicans were in charge on Capitol Hill. But with a Democratic Congress and a Democratic White House, they feel now is the time to pull the trigger.

Consider it this way: D.C., for demographic purposes, is a large city. If marriage laws were left up to New York City instead of New York State, don't you think New York City would have probably already legalized same-sex marriage? Same goes for Chicago as it relates to Illinois and San Francisco as it relates to California.

If gay leaders in the District wait till next year, 2010, it will be an election year. Both the mayor and several D.C. Council members will be on the ballot. Also, more importantly, it's an election year for Congress.

Gay rights supporters do not want to risk this issue becoming entangled in election-year politics.

And although the debate is getting a lot of coverage, it's not as if this is the only issue being taken up by the city hall. In fact, I think this entire debate will be sort of anticlimactic due to the overwhelming support for it on the council.


To Cheverly: My children have to attend public schools with parents who are fearful and willfully ignorant of others' cultures and traditions. This impacts my family, but the whole point of participating in a commmunity is to learn from and share differences with those who are different from ourselves. I do hope that those with families different from your own, and the school's impetus to teach your children about them, impact your family daily.

Tim Craig: Lots of comments that I can't really comment on, but can share with others.


Purcellville, Va.: Any thoughts on whether the measure will help D.C.'s economy? There have been business studies showing how the "creative class" is drawn to this kind of openness and concentrates its industries in such cities.

Tim Craig: This study was released in April. It states: "Extending marriage to same-sex couples will boost the District of Columbia‟s economy by over $52.2 million over three years, which would generate increases in local government tax and fee revenues by $5.4 million and create approximately 700 new jobs."

But I don't think anyone really knows longterm.

I imagine the economic benefits will grow muted as more and more states approve same-sex marriage. Maryland, for example, could very well follow the District's lead on the issue within a few years. Same with New York, New Jersey, etc.

The question becomes will same-sex couples from more conservative states flock to DC just to say they got married in the nation's capitol? If so, what are the economic benefits of that. I am not sure.


Washington, D.C.: You answered the second part of the person's question earlier about what states allow same-sex marriage, but you forget to say that 40 states have voted (by popular vote or law) to define marriage as between one man and one woman...this is significant.

When the people are allowed to decide, they have always decided that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Tim Craig: This is true. But I don't think you can assume the result would be the same in the District since its entirely urban.

Lets consider Virginia's 2006 election banning gay marriage.

Although it easily passed statewide, the constitutional amendment lost by big margins both in Alexandria and Arlington. It also lost badly in majority-black Richmond city and Norfolk.

If you combine those areas, you kind of get the demographics of Washington D.C. That is why many people believe a referendum to ban gay marriage would fail in the District.

On the hand, voters in Los Angeles County narrowly approved Proposition 8 in 2008.

Could be an interesting election if it a refernedum is called for DC.


Washington, D.C. : I've heard that churches won't be required to marry gay couples --but what about church-affiliated adoption agencies? (Like Catholic Charities, perhaps) Will they be required to allow gay couples to adopt? What about church-owned halls or auditoriums? Would they be allowed to turn down gay couples who want to rent the facility for receptions?

Tim Craig: There are church exemptions in David Catania's bill.

One thing I am still not clear on, and this relates to another question I have yet to get to, is what happens if a Catholic church in the city rents out basement space for receptions.

Under David Catania's bill, its sort of murky as to whether they would also have to rent to gay couples if their hall is widely available to straight couples.

The way it was explained to me is that a Church could have an exception where they state they only rent to Catholics. But they could not have an exemption where they say they only rent to hetersexuals.


Washington, D.C.: Are there many gay Christians, Catholics, Muslims, etc., that are pushing for the government to make the religions recognize gay marriage?

Tim Craig: not that i am aware of


Silver Spring, Md.: Has Councilwoman Alexander given a public statement as to why she is not in support of this legislation? I know she received heat about the bill and was told that it raised questions about her religious beliefs.

Tim Craig: Alexander addressed the issue in an interview last month with the Washington City Paper.


Washington, D.C.: According to some articles I saw online, the bill has a religious exemption, but also says if a church rents or lets the general public use its space, the exemption doesn't apply. So what happens to the churches that rent halls for wedding receptions or open up their churches for community meetings for the neighborhood?

Tim Craig: There are lots of questions on this. So I picked up the phone and called David Catania's office.

Here is their response: If they rent only to Catholics or to people within their denomination or faith, then they are not required to open it up to gay couples. But if the hall is available to the general public, then they cannot discriminate against same-sex couples.

Catania's office says most churches limit their receptions/events to people of the ssame faith. And those that open up their facilities to the general public already have to abide by the city's Human Rights Law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.


Tim Craig: That is all the time I have today. Sorry for the questions that I did not get. I will come back on in a few weeks to take more. Or you can email me at

_______________________ Michael Brown Stands for Gay Marriage; Yvette Alexander Does Not (City Paper, Sept. 11)


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