Pannell statement to Ward 8 Dems on Marriage Equality
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Pannell statement to Ward 8 Dems on Marriage Equality

From:Rick Rosendall
Sent:Monday, May 18, 2009 8:19 AM
To:GLAA Members
Subject:Pannell statement to Ward 8 Dems on Marriage Equality


Below is the statement that Philip Pannell made at Saturday’s meeting of the Ward 8 Democrats during discussion of his resolution supporting marriage equality in D.C. Below that is the text of the resolution, which passed by a vote of 21 to 11.

Thanks again to Philip for his powerful words and for a job well done, as well as to Rev. Dennis Wiley of Covenant Baptist Church, who also spoke eloquently in support of equality. And thanks to the people of Ward 8.

Rick Rosendall
Vice President for Political Affairs
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C.

by Philip Pannell, Ward 8 Democratic State Committeeman
May 16, 2009

Today is the celebration of the 55th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruling that began the dismantling of de jure segregation in public schools.  Our country is made ever greater by the continued efforts to guarantee equal opportunity and rights for all citizens.  While the historical transformation of the United States into an equal opportunity and equal rights society has led to advancements for women, African Americans and other groups, there still remains a minority in our country who experience daily discrimination and bigotry and for whom equality remains an elusive goal.  That group consists of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender neighbors, co-workers, friends and relatives. 

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton , a consistent and courageous voice for human rights has stated that equal protections and rights based on sexual orientation constitute the unfinished business of the civil rights agenda.  Sadly it is still widely acceptable in our country to discriminate against LGBT people and to express this bigotry openly.  The epithets sissy, faggot and dyke are heard daily in the corridors and playgrounds of schools.  Homophobic bullying has led to a record number of suicide attempts and successful suicides particularly among African American youths.  And the U.S. military continues its legally sanctioned discriminatory policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. 

Current efforts to achieve civil marriage equality are essential and critical to achieving a society where everyone is purportedly equal.  In the U.S. when a man and a woman are married they, according to the U.S. General Accountability Office, automatically receive 1,138 rights.  Some of these rights are listed on the back of my resolution that I have distributed.  Although civil unions are sanctioned in several states and municipalities, those arrangements are basically unequal to civil marriage.  Civil unions do not grant all of the 1138 rights that married heterosexual couples enjoy (such as filing joint federal income tax returns and receiving Social Security benefits).  While I support civil unions only as a step toward civil marriage equality, I compare it to the support that most DC Democrats give to the current legislative efforts to gain a vote in the House of Representatives as the first step toward statehood, which is the only way we will be equal to citizens of other states.  It is impossible to be one-third or one-half free or equal.  You are either free and equal or you are not.  Such is the case with civil marriage equality, which I testified for before the DC City Council in 1976.

There are different concepts and attitudes toward marriage.  Some people view marriage only as a legal contract between two persons who decide to publicly proclaim their commitment to each other.  Others view marriage as a sacramental and liturgical union between a man and a woman who publicly proclaim their vows to each other and to God.   Some religious denominations will only perform the rites of holy matrimony in their churches, mosques and synagogues if the man and woman are of the same faith.  Some religious denominations consider marriage a sacred contract that cannot be dissolved and prohibit divorce.   Regardless of the view of marriage that a person holds, what is clear is that there can be a civil marriage without a religious ceremony.  After all, two atheists can get married.  

What the proponents of civil marriage equality are advocating is that two persons of the same gender be allowed the benefits and rights of civil marriage.  For those who believe in holy matrimony then it is up to them to follow the dictates of their chosen religious denominations.  Marriage equality would in no way abridge the First Amendment rights of religious institutions, their associations and members to refuse to perform marriages that are inconsistent with and violate their deeply held religious beliefs and traditions.

Currently here in DC civil marriage only involves a man and a woman, who are at least 18 years of age, going to the fourth floor of the Superior Court building, filling out a one page form, paying $35.00 and waiting 10 days for the wedding to be performed in the marriage ceremony room.  Even a blood test is no longer required. A civil marriage equality law would apply the same requirements to same gender couples.

We as progressive Democrats should acknowledge the desire for same gender couples to have their relationships legally recognized.  Is it fair that a heterosexual couple after a night of carousing in Las Vegas can wake up the next day and discover in the midst of their hangovers that they got married several hours earlier and immediately have all rights; yet, two persons of the same gender who have been in a responsible, committed, loving, long term relationship have no opportunity to achieve even a fraction of those rights?

Fellow Democrats, the continued legal discrimination against LGBT people must end.  For our society to continue to discriminate against people because of how they were born is unfair, unjust and profoundly inhumane.  I did not reach adulthood and one day decided that I would become Gay.  Most rational people do not decide to become something that makes them a moving target for hatred and brutalization.  Our government and society devalue and dehumanize same –gender relationships by labeling them immoral and not worthy of recognition and benefits.  Also, I find it profoundly troubling that many Gays and Lesbians must continue to endure lives of quiet desperation and deception because they are afraid to be what they are.  If Gay men were allowed the benefit of civil marriage, then maybe some of them would not be compelled to live on the down low and use unsuspecting women as fronts in order to achieve societal acceptability and respectability.

Our Ward 8 City Councilmember was quoted in the newspaper as saying that “only a handful of gays live in Ward 8.”  Personally I do not know the total number of Gays in Ward 8 but I do know that many Lesbians and Gays in Ward 8 refuse to get involved in community activities because they are afraid of being confronted with the same type of intolerant attitudes and actions that were recently displayed on Freedom Plaza and in the John Wilson Building by the opponents of civil marriage equality. 

In 1983, Mayor Marion Barry appointed me to the DC Human Rights Commission, making me the first openly Gay African American man to be appointed to a municipal human rights panel in the country.   I will always cherish and be grateful to him for that opportunity and Mayor Barry’s trust in me to defend the rights of all the residents of our city.  My ideas, principles and ideals have not changed in the 26 years since that appointment. 

My fellow Ward 8 Democrats, you have affirmed my community involvement and humbled me by electing me five times as the president of this great organization.   I can declare with firm conviction and without hesitation or equivocation that there is nothing homophobic about the Ward Eight Democrats.  I ask that you continue that same affirming, welcoming and embracing spirit by sending the message throughout the city that the Democrats of Ward 8 value all families.  Today please join me in voting for the civil marriage equality resolution.

Thank you and may God continue to bless you and the Ward Eight Democrats.

Submitted to the Ward Eight Democrats, Inc.
by Philip Pannell, Ward 8 Democratic State Committeeman
May 16, 2009

Whereas, the Ward Eight Democrats, Inc., is a progressive political organization committed to equal opportunity and social justice for all of the citizens of the District of Columbia;

And whereas, efforts to establish civil marriage equality in the District of Columbia are in the spirit and letter of D.C.’s Human Rights Law, one of the most comprehensive in the nation;

And whereas, civil marriage would in no way infringe upon or abridge the U.S. Constitution First Amendment rights of religious institutions, their associations and members to conduct matrimonial ceremonies that are in keeping with their deeply held beliefs;

And whereas, religious institutions that refuse to sanction same gender marriages would not be penalized for refusing to conduct them;

Be it resolved, that the Ward Eight Democrats, Inc., affirms its historic support for the civil and human rights of all D.C. citizens by supporting civil marriage equality;

Be it also resolved, that the Ward Eight Democrats, Inc., calls upon the D.C. City Council and the Mayor to do all that is necessary to institute civil marriage equality with all deliberate speed;

And be it further resolved, that any D.C. marriage equality law will have clearly stated protections for religious institutions, their associations and members to sanction exclusively marriages that are consistent with their beliefs and traditions.

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