The path to legalizing gay marriage in
the District of Columbia begins Tuesday as the city's new gay
marriage recognition law takes effect. The law recognizes the
marriages of gay and lesbian couples performed elsewhere.
City Council members approved the new
ordinance in a 12 to 1 vote in May, with former Mayor Marion Barry
the lone dissenter, and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, signed the
Council leaders openly acknowledge
their next move is to legalize gay marriage in the District, an idea
that has not sat well with Bishop Harry Jackson, the pastor leading
the fight against gay marriage in the city.
Jackson quickly rallied opposition,
forming the Stand 4 Marriage D.C. Coalition, a group of mostly black
ministers. Days after the council acted, the ministers gathered to
protest the council's actions and announced they would repeal the
measure with a referendum.
“It's a declaration of war,” he
said. “We are sending a clear message that this is going to be
fought every step of the way.”
A referendum in the District cannot
violate the city's Human Rights Act of 1977 that prohibits
discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. Whether
the referendum would proceed depends on the city's Board of Election
At a packed meeting in early June, the
board heard four hours of testimony from gay marriage backers and
“All we are asking for is a public
debate,” said the Rev. Dale Wafer, a minister with the Harvest, a
religious community in Northeast Washington.
But other opponents didn't mince words,
and unleashed a fury of anti-gay sentiment.
Wearing a t-shirt for the anti-gay
website thirdgender666.com that read “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
Transgender Morals are Worse than Animals,” Minister Leroy Swailes,
who most likely owns the anonymously registered website, railed
against being gay.
Swailes testified that discrimination
against gay men and lesbians is “positive discrimination.”
“Me as a black man, when they
discriminated against me, I came out of my mother's womb, like I
didn't have a choice, that was a negative discrimination. If you
discriminate against a homosexual, that's a positive,” Swailes, who
went on to call children's books like King
and King that explain gay and lesbian relationships
pedophile books, said.
He also argued that gay men and
lesbians are inhuman and therefore not eligible for human rights:
“Everybody should have human rights, but you have to be human.
Human means you deal with the opposite sex.”
Gay rights activists Philip E. Pannell
accused opponents of “advocating for a popular vote that will give
vent to public homophobia.”
“Unfortunately, in our society, it is
still acceptable in many polite circles to vilify and victimize gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” he testified.
“Hopefully, we in the District of Columbia will not have to be
subjected to a campaign of misunderstanding, intolerance, fear,
bigotry and hatred towards a minority group.”
The board voted to block the referendum
the next week, saying it would violate the law and discriminate
against gay men and lesbians. Determined opponents sought relief
from the courts.
Last Tuesday, Superior Court Judge
Judith Retchin upheld the panel's decision. Her 15-page ruling
chided opponents: “At bottom, the harm about which petitioners
complain is not based on a denial of the right to referendum.
Rather, they simply disagree with legislation enacted by our
duly-elected [city] council. A citizen's disagreement with
constitutionally sound legislation, whether based on political,
religious or moral views, does not rise to the level of an actionable
Retchin also denied petitioner's
request to stay the July 7 start of the law, leaving opponents out of
legal venues. Except to attempt to amend the law.
“We will definitely fight it – if
that's the case – yes,” Jackson told gay weekly the Washington
Six mostly New England states have
legalized gay marriage: Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New
Hampshire, Maine and Iowa.
District of Columbia lawmakers would
like to add their city to that list. How quickly that happens
depends not only on Bishop Jackson's resolve, but also on whether
Congress is willing to fight city officials.
Because laws passed by the District are
subject to a 30-day review period by Congress, before committing to
gay marriage, the marriage recognition law was set afloat as a trial
balloon. Several Republican congressmen, led by Ohio Representative
Jim Jordan, objected to the law, but Democrats refused to join the
Tuesday's start of the law then is a
symbolic nod from Congress, a gay marriage approval, no matter how