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 Instead they have been replaced by more voices, particularly younger ones, who question why outdated discrimination remains on our books and who actively seek its removal.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.