from the Washington Blade, Friday Jun 1st, 2007
Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty last month reaffirmed his campaign promise to sign a same-sex marriage bill if City Council approves it, saying he’s “always stood in full support for full marriage rights” for gays.
But the mayor, speaking May 14 before the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, said he remains aware that many in the gay community believe it would be counterproductive to move ahead with a D.C. same-sex marriage bill until it became certain that Congress would not overturn it, or worse, pass a law banning same-sex unions in the city.
Under the city’s limited home rule charter, Congress has final authority to overturn or pass any laws it deems appropriate for the District.
“I have not heard as much since the Congress changed hands about whether that now alters some of the people’s views who weren’t in favor of the Council and the mayor going forward,” Fenty told members of the Stein Club, a gay partisan group. “So maybe it’s time to start the dialogue again.”
Most activists associated with the Stein Club and the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance, the city’s two most influential gay political groups, say they believe the time is not right to move ahead with a same-sex marriage bill for D.C.
Officials with both groups say that while leaders of the new Democratic-controlled Congress tend to be supportive of gay rights, the newly elected Democrats — who enabled their party to win a narrow majority over Republicans — come from moderate to conservative states and districts.
Most of these new members have expressed opposition to same-sex marriage and many would likely vote to overturn a D.C. “gay marriage” bill, GLAA and Stein Club members have said.
Activists favoring a cautious approach point to Congress’ decision in the early 1980s to overturn the District’s decision to repeal its sodomy law, delaying the repeal effort for more than a decade. They also point to Congress’ decision to block the city from implementing its domestic partners law for nine years and its continued ban on a clean needle exchange program for addicts and a medical marijuana bill.
“It’s a real threat, not a remote or theoretical abstraction,” said GLAA Vice President Rick Rosendall, in discussing how Congress would react to a D.C. same-sex marriage bill.
Local gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson has emerged as the most vocal supporter of moving ahead with an equal marriage rights bill in the District. Hudson has said he believes Democratic leaders in Congress would block efforts to overturn such a bill. Earlier this year, he told a gay town meeting sponsored by the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association that Council should pass such a bill before the 2008 congressional elections.
This week, Hudson said he and other local activists recently discussed strategy for a D.C. marriage rights bill for gays and determined such a bill should move forward “within the next few years.”
“Folks I spoke with want to pursue full marriage equality, but there is no consensus yet on a timeline,” he said. “That timeline is going to be sooner than what GLAA is calling for. But it’s not going to be right away.”
Hudson did not identify the other activists he said are working with him.
GLAA has said it is committed to bringing about same-sex marriage as soon as its members and its gay activist allies determine Congress would not intervene.
In public statements, GLAA has said it believes these developments would be necessary before the city should move ahead with a same-sex marriage bill:
• Passage by Congress of a bill introduced by D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) granting the city a full vote in the House of Representatives.
• Passage by Congress of full budget autonomy for the District.
• Passage by Congress of full legislative autonomy so the District’s local laws are no longer subject to congressional review.
• Passage of same-sex marriage by at least six states, which would likely “temper” Congress’s impulse to meddle with D.C. affairs on the gay marriage question.
Political observers believe the Norton bill has a reasonable chance of passing, but most experts don’t believe Congress is likely to grant the city full budget and legislative autonomy any time soon, perhaps not for another decade.
“The point is not to wait until there is no risk, but until we have a fighting chance,” said GLAA Vice President Rick Rosendall, in a recent commentary.
Leaders of the two largest national gay political groups had differing views on how Congress likely would respond to a D.C. marriage bill.
“We have a friendly leadership in place but we still have a very conservative Congress,” said David Smith, vice president of Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay civil rights group. “I don’t believe that would be a smart, strategic move at this juncture,” Smith said, in discussing a D.C. same-sex marriage bill.
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, said his “gut” feeling is that gays and their political allies “would have a strong shot at either blocking or defeating” an attempt in Congress to overturn a D.C. same-sex marriage bill.
According to Foreman, a large number of senators and House members who voted last year against a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage said that while they personally opposed same-sex marriage they also opposed “federal intervention” in an issue that traditionally has been relegated to the states.
“Even with the history of Congress treating the District contemptuously, I still think this can be framed as a state’s rights issue,” Foreman said.
Evan Wolfson, executive director of the national same-sex marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry, called on supporters of a D.C. same-sex marriage bill to conduct a methodical survey on such a bill with all members of Congress, something he said has yet to be done.
“This is not a question of conjecture or speculation,” he said. “It’s a matter of calling members of Congress and getting a vote count to see where we are.”
If a careful vote count shows supporters of self-determination for D.C. have the votes to block an attempt to overturn a same-sex marriage bill in the District, City Council and mayor should move ahead on the issue, Wolfson said. If there aren’t enough votes to block an overturn effort, the city should delay passing such a bill, he said.
“This should not be decided one way or the other on impressions,” he said.
Meanwhile, three other local D.C. political groups representing gay blacks, Latinos and Asian-Pacific Islanders have yet to speak out in favor of moving ahead with a D.C. same-sex marriage bill.
Brian Watson, president of the D.C. Coalition of Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Men & Women, said the coalition doesn’t consider a same-sex marriage bill high on its list of priorities.
“We do support same-sex marriage in D.C., but we feel there are other, more pressing issues for African-American gays,” he said, including AIDS-related health care and non-discrimination policies.
The local group Latinos En Accion, which represents gay and transgender Latinos and Latinas, also supports same-sex marriage but remains uncertain whether Congress would step in to block it in D.C., according to Ruby Corado, the group’s president.
“We have discussed this,” Corado said. “People are not sure yet that right now is the right time.”
Spokespersons for the local group Asian/Pacific Islander Queers United for Action, or AQUA, did not respond to a request for comment on the same-sex marriage issue. There is no mention of the issue on the group’s web site.