As of this morning, March 3, 2010, any two unmarried, unrelated people, regardless of gender, will be permitted to apply for license to wed in the District of Columbia. Marriage ceremonies will be performed starting next week.
In the fall, D.C. held public hearings on the bill. The room was packed and the speaker list was so full that it was necessary to devote multiple days to the topic so everyone could be heard. Rudi was one of the final speakers on the first night, when he gave an extemporaneous speech about why this issue is so important to us and why we wanted to see the legislation pass. We generally break down the household chores by talent and predilection and, as such, public speaking falls to Rudi.
But in retrospect this was an important enough issue that I wish I’d gotten up to add my “me too!” to those in support of the bill.
I’d like to think I would have said something along these lines:
The world can be a big and scary place. If you’re lucky, you have friends who make it a little smaller and more manageable. And if you’re really blessed, you might meet someone who shrinks it to the size of two hands clasped together and who banishes fears in their embrace.
I am supremely fortunate to have met the person who does that for me. And I’m even luckier that when we had those early, earnest conversations about marriage that he understood when instead of promising to say “I do,” I said “I can’t.”
Don’t get me wrong. Legally there are no impediments to our union — not in any of the 50 states nor in D.C. But for me there was a higher moral question of participating in an institution that discriminates based on the genders of those involved.
Rudi is a romantic, but he’s also a good guy. He understood my reasoning and since has embraced it as his own. We have made the choice to remain unmarried even as friends whose relationships are far newer have legalized their unions.
The landscape of marriage equality has evolved over the last 15 years, though, offering us the hope that this will not always be so. Yes, there are still far too many people who stridently stick to antiquated definitions and who barricade themselves behind Bible verses. But I have now sat through hearings in Connecticut and D.C. and I hear from fewer of those whose rhetoric stinks of hate. Instead they have been replaced by more voices, particularly younger ones, who question why outdated discrimination remains on our books and who actively seek its removal. The definition of marriage has been expanded in several states and looks to become law here now.
Yet, Defense against Marriage Acts exist in far too many states and in federal legislation. My gay best friend and his husband do not get the same federal benefits that my straight best friend and hers do. My brother and his partner can’t wed in their home state, and although I have extended an invitation to come to D.C. for a wedding, my brother correctly points out that there isn’t much point when their union would essentially be dissolved when they return home.
So D.C.’s new law will not change things for me and Rudi. We will continue on as we have, but with more hope in our hearts. For every California and Maine that is foisted on us, there is a D.C. or Iowa or Massachusetts offering a glimpse of what is to come. And someday soon, it will be laughable that such discrimination ever was part of our history.
Government doesn’t often get the opportunity to help make people happy. Sometimes it’s able to alleviate pain and suffering, but joy generally falls outside its purview. But today the D.C. Council has the rare chance to declare loudly and for all to hear, “Love matters to the District of Columbia and its residents. Today we write into law that happiness does not turn back at the city’s boundaries and is a possibility all couples here can embrace equally.”
Opponents of love tried their best to stop D.C.’s bill from becoming law. They appealed unsuccessfully over and over again to the Board of Elections and Ethics and to the courts to try to force a California- and Maine-style ballot initiative. They lobbied Congress to use their power to usurp Home Rule. They padded the public hearings held back in the fall. They used intimidation, threats, and subterfuge, but all for naught. In a little more than four hours, love will be proven the victor.
I’m so proud to be a D.C. resident on the eve of this hard-fought moment. My heartfelt thanks go out to those who fought the day-in/day-out battles to get this legislation (and earlier bills that helped pave the way) passed and to those who testified on its behalf at the Council’s public hearings in the fall. I am especially grateful to Council Member David Catania and his staff, who refused to retreat to the back of the bus on this issue and instead chose to fight ignorance, discrimination, and hatred with facts, information, and love.
On Tuesday morning, unless something crazy happens, the D.C. Council will vote to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Tomorrow afternoon, the mayor plans to sign the bill into law. Provided Congress doesn’t act in the following 30 days to countermand it, come late-January, D.C. will join Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa in being the most forward-thinking places in the nation when it comes to marriage equality.
It is a long time coming, but the victory is now close enough to savor. My fears of Congressional intervention are not unfounded, but conversations with Council staff members over the weekend suggest that I might be worrying for naught. I hope they’re right.
On the day the D.C. Council introduced the legislation, The New York Times made a compelling case about why this issue is so important, not just here, but across the country and at a federal level. “The High Price of Being a Gay Couple” points out that the extra costs a same-sex couple in a committed couple accrue runs into the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifelong relationship. This includes everything from health insurance costs to pensions to the legal costs associated with safeguarding children, power of attorney, and inheritance in the event of a health scare or death.
The law won’t even the playing field for all couples. The national DOMA law still forbids same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, such as Social Security, that opposite-sex spouses take for granted. But it is a step in the right direction. Just as interracial marriage opponents today are considered ridiculous, I expect those people in Maine and California who voted to put hatred into their law books will be pitied for their intolerance 20 years from now.
Change is coming. It is slow, but it is coming. And I’m pleased that the District is on the right side of that movement, helping to turn the tide.
I’d like to thank all the activists who worked tirelessly on this issue in the District; the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, who twice ruled that citizens did not have a right to put hatred into a ballot initiative; Council Member David Catania, who introduced the bill and had research and answers for every argument that some bigoted person or group brought forward; Council Member Phil Mendelson, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary that moved the bill forward to a full Council vote; and the other eight Council Members who are expected to vote for the bill. This law means so much to Rudi and me, and we are going to be tremendously proud to be District residents tomorrow.
As of 1 a.m. on the morning after the election, you’re letting this New England girl down. I hope late-reporting districts and absentee ballots will show you to be a more compassionate people than the early returns suggest you to be.
I just want to let everyone know that I haven’t disappeared and I’ll be back with posts tomorrow. But it’s after midnight, Rudi and I just got home, and we haven’t had supper, so I’d prefer to eat than type.
I will say that the initial hearing for the civil marriage law was, in fact, quite civil for such a thing. Of course, when it’s sponsored by 10 of 13 council members and the mayor has promised to sign it, maybe the crazy, bigoted folk opt to stay home and get in touch with members of Congress who might be persuaded to overturn District laws instead…
I was proud and delighted to be home in Connecticut on Friday when the State Supreme Court handed down its decision saying that marriage is a right for all consenting adult couples. This is an issue that’s dear to Rudi’s and my hearts, and we look forward to the day when this simple human right is recognized as the law of the land and not just certain individual states.
California, one of three forward-thinking states that acknowledge the equal rights of same sex couples, has a ballot initiative on its ballot in November that seeks to introduce discrimination into its laws. Proposition 8 has been spun by its proponents as a helpful initiative to save nonprofit and religious organizations from being forced to part ways with their mission statements. Since no one can force any church to marry any couple — gay or straight — this just doesn’t hold much water. Nor does the concern that the flood of people rushing to marry will bankrupt state, local, or federal coffers. I mean, really, it would be far more helpful, if that’s your fear, to forbid rights to large corporate CEOs.
If you live in California, I ask you not to deny my brother, my best friend, and many other law-abiding, tax-paying citizens rights that you and I have the blessing of being able to take for granted. If you live elsewhere, but have the ear of those who will be voting on this issue November 4th, please talk to them. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and it would be easy to be confused about what the ballot initiative actually stands for. Please vote No on California Proposition 8 to keep human rights a priority in one of our largest states.
I think the modern, prevailing attitude amongst younger generations is one of inclusion. I hope that state legislatures see it as a postive move forward sooner rather than later and make marriage a legal institution for everyone.
A while ago now, Erik and I were IMing about some of the court setbacks that gay marriage and civil unions have faced in the last few months.
I once again suggested that we change the concept of marriage altogether in the future. A civil union, open to any two unrelated adults, should confer all legal and governmental benefits — Social Security, shared custody of children, inheritance rights, hospital visitation, etc. — that are currently offered to married people. Marriage proper could be a religious ceremony, offered to certain (or all) people depending on the tenets of the church.
Erik, I believe, (Correct me if I’m misrepresenting your views here) agrees with this idea in theory. But he argues that “civil union” as a term seems very bland and businessy and second-class when compared with “marriage.” And what would one use as a verb? “Unionized” has a very different connotation. “Partnered” has platonic definitions that lends itself to confusion.
So we thought we’d open the discussion up to you. Is there a better term that we could start to use to connote all the romantic feelings that ought to accompany such a union while simultaneously and unambiguously explaining what sort of relationship one is entering into?