GLAA to ANCs: Please oppose ballot initiative on marriage
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C.
P.O. Box 75265, Washington, D.C. 20013
Friday, August 14, 2009
Dear Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner:
ANC 5A Commissioner Robert King wrote to you recently asking you to support his effort to place an initiative on the ballot defining marriage in the District as being between one man and one woman. We urge you not to support that effort.
Contrary to claims by our opponents, the issue of same-sex civil marriage is not a new one here in the District. GLAA has been advocating marriage equality since 1975, as you can see from our timeline at
Mr. King was quoted by The Washington Post’s DC Wire blog on August 12 as saying, “This should not be decided by the council.... This is probably the most contentious issue in the 21st century. Let the will of the people decide.” First, the protection of minorities from tyranny by the majority has always been part of the American system of government. The District recognized the danger of subjecting minority protections to a majority vote in 1979 when, at GLAA’s urging, it barred referenda and initiatives from authorizing discrimination prohibited under the D.C. Human Rights Act. Authorizing discrimination against gay people is precisely the purpose of the proposed initiative. Let’s put it another way: do you think that your neighbors should be able to vote on your marriage? Those who disapprove of same-sex marriages have the right not to enter into one, but they do not have the right to interfere with our pursuit of happiness.
Second, Mr. King appears not to have considered that if elected representatives were deemed unfit to decide contentious issues, the ANCs would be undercut. ANCs deal routinely with contentious issues, yet no one suggests on that account that our elected commissioners should be bypassed in favor of expensive plebiscites. Why should this one issue be singled out for different treatment, other than a desire to bypass deliberation in favor of inflaming public opinion?
Mr. King claims that he has no anti-gay animus, but the only reason to push his proposed initiative is to deny equal protection to same-sex couples. There are many reasons to defend those couples and to oppose Mr. King’s efforts:
- D.C. voters have long supported diversity and inclusiveness, including equal rights for their GLBT neighbors. The last D.C. politician to make homophobia a centerpiece of his campaign was Vincent Orange, who as a mayoral candidate in 2006 called the other candidates “morally unfit” for office because they supported marriage equality. Mr. Orange received just two percent of the vote.
- Most D.C. clergy have avoided Bishop Harry Jackson’s anti-gay efforts. Indeed, a diverse array of clergy supports marriage equality. See
- The claim by the anti-gay ministers that they will be forced to conduct or approve of same-sex marriages is false. No ministers in marriage-equality jurisdictions have been forced to marry same-sex couples. Councilmember David Catania stated in The Washington Post on May 10 that “any legislation that I propose will specifically protect the free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution. All religious institutions will be free to decide for themselves whether or not to solemnize same-sex marriages consistent with their religious beliefs.”
- Marriage equality benefits people of all colors, contrary to efforts by Bishop Jackson to create a racial wedge issue. A number of leaders of D.C.’s marriage equality effort are African American, including Michael Crawford of D.C. for Marriage and Jeffrey Richardson of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.
- Marriage helps people of all income levels, but provides the most help to couples with the fewest financial resources. This is because legal marriage serves as the “poor man’s lawyer,” granting couples a wealth of protections in one fell swoop that otherwise could only be approximated by a series of expensive legal instruments. Also, many same-sex couples are raising children (adoption by same-sex couples having been legal here since 1995), and those children need the same protections as children of heterosexual couples.
- Contrary to the claim that marriage has remained unchanged for millennia, civil marriage laws have been updated many times in recent decades, notably to grant equal status to women. The claim that recognizing same-sex marriages will create a “slippery slope” to legalizing polygamy and incest is contradicted by the fact that past changes have not set off any such avalanche of horrors. Such fear tactics are unworthy of a serious discussion among neighbors.
- Civil unions and domestic partnerships lack the universal recognition and legal certainty of marriage. Children are better protected when both of their parents are legally responsible for them, and marriage is the best way of assuring this.
The push for marriage equality is not just about rights, but about people embracing responsibility. When two people of whatever gender seal their mutual love and commitment with a marriage contract, the community is strengthened. The definition of sexual orientation in the D.C. Human Rights Act is “male or female homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality, by preference or practice.” When two heterosexual people fall in love, the widespread expectation is that they will marry. To bar gay citizens from a practice that our straight siblings take for granted — a practice many of us consider essential to our security and happiness — is cruel, destructive, and a clear violation of the Human Rights Act.
For more than 38 years, GLAA’s volunteer citizen-activists have worked to make our city second to none in upholding civil rights for all. As part of this, we have consistently resisted interference by the U.S. Congress in D.C. affairs. One of our founders, Frank Kameny, who helped draft the constitution for the proposed state of New Columbia, was honored by ACLU of the National Capital Area at its recent Salute to D.C. Military and Statehood Veterans. All of which is to reiterate that we are your neighbors, with a shared commitment to the welfare of our city.
Once a marriage-equality bill is introduced in the D.C. Council this fall, a public hearing will be scheduled. That is the appropriate occasion for concerned citizens to weigh in on the issue, along with letters, phone calls, and lobbying visits to councilmembers. People unhappy with the actions of their councilmembers and mayor have the right to vote against them when they face re-election. We only ask that in forming your own position, you consider the thoughts we have expressed here.
There are bound to be tensions in any diverse society, but surely someone's disapproval of a particular family is no justification for placing them outside the protection of the law. We are talking about the simple justice of extending equal protection to all families in our city. Let us keep D.C. on the right side of history.
GLAA President and Ward 5 resident
cc: All D.C. Councilmembers
Mayor Adrian Fenty