With nearly 40 candidates already in the running for seven seats on the city council, some kind of political scorecard will undoubtedly be necessary to know the players in the Sept. 12 primary elections. But that's only the beginning.
Be prepared to need still another reference - perhaps in the form of several tomes of legislative history - when some of the candidates begin the confusing and often misleading practice of spouting off various bill introductions, amendments, resolutions and abstentions under the pretense of running on their records.
One example of how confusing this practice can be is a current campaign radio announcement broadcast by council member Douglas E. Moore (D-at large), which depicts council member Arrington Dixon (D-4), Moore's major opponent in the contest for council chairman, as the anti-family candidate in the race.
"Did you know that a bill was introduced . . . to permit men to marry men and women to marry women by a certain councilman?" Moore says in the ad, which has been broadcast on the two major black-oriented radio stations in the city, WOL and WHUR-FM.
Moore then quotes a Catholic archdiocese newspaper articles as saying that such acts would be repugnant and contrary to the laws of God as well as man. "But Arrington Dixon," Moore says, pronouncing the name with an accusatory lift in his voice, "introduced bill 1-89 to permit this. It is obvious that he does not hold the family sacred. I do.
"A vote for Dixon is a vote against the family. Vote for Douglas Moore, a man who will protect you and your family."
Dixon says Moore's claims are inaccurate. Moore says the record supports his claims. The problem is that both men are right, and there is still a lot of gray area left in between.
Dixon did introduce a bill in 1975 aimed at streamlining the city's marriage and divorce laws.In one section it referred to a couple as any "two persons" who met certain conditions. Gay rights advocates in the city quickly read that as meaning that differences in sex were not necessary between partners in a legally recognized marriage. The result: men could marry men and women could marry women.
The way it came to be that way was unintentional, Dixon said. In trying to overhaul the language of the marriage law, all of the references to men and women were replaced with neuter terms "to keep in line with the antisexist language being developed in legislation nowadays," according to Barry Campbell, who was Dixon's executive assistant at the time and is now the manager of the Dixon campaign.
"We felt that absent legislative history to the contrary, the courts would have interpreted that as meaning a man and a woman," Campbell said. "If somewhere down the line the court would have reached the point where it would have allowed that (gay marriages) then that's up to the court." The result was that even gay rights leaders were surprised.
"That came out of left field," recalled Richard Maulsby, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the major gay activist political group in the city. "No one expected it. No one had been pushing for it. Everybody said. 'Who's Arrington Dixon?'" So gay activists testified in favor of the bill, calling it a step in the right direction.
Once gay marriage became a controversial item in the measure, however, Dixon abandoned the entire effort to streamline the marriage codes and left them as they were, Campbell said. It was never Dixon's intention to introduce a gay marriage bill in the first place, he said. The result at that point, according to prominent gay activist Frank Kameny, was that Dixon appeared to be dropping the measure when it became "politically untenable."
Whatever the case, Mayor Walter E. Washington signed the measure into law a year later, without the gay marriage provision. Dixon's campaign press secretary now calls the whole incident "mudslinging" by Moore, but Dixon says he doesn't intend to make an issue of it. Moore still says let the record speak for itself.
If that's not confusing enough, gay activist Kameny now says he begs to differ with Moore - with whom he usually differs pretty strongly anyway - on the effect of gay marriage on the family. "If anything," says Kameny, "it's pro-family, because it broadens the definition of what a family can be."