Marriage and FamilyThe recent ruling by the California Supreme Court, granting same-sex marriage based on equal protection principles, confirmed what U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the 1967 case Loving v. Virginia:: “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”17
GLAA seeks the fundamental right to marry as part of the full integration into American society that is our birthright.
A higher percentage of gay families live in D.C. than in most of the country. The District ranks first among the states in the percentage of coupled households that are gay or lesbian (5.14 percent). According to the Williams Institute’s analysis of data from the 2000 census, there are 3,678 same-sex partner households in the District of Columbia. Almost 33,000 gay, lesbian, and bisexual people lived in the District as of 2005, which is 8.1% of the total population.18
These families pay taxes, are contributing members of their communities, and deserve the same protections as their neighbors. Commitment and stability benefit not only the individuals involved, but society as a whole.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the right to marriage is so fundamental that even condemned prisoners, denied the right to freedom, to vote, to free expression, and even to life itself, cannot be denied the right to marry.19
To deny same-sex couples the right to marry is at best perverse.
GLAA’s strong support for marriage equality does not blind us to strategic considerations. The U.S. Congress retains complete legislative control over the District. The Congress has been bipartisan in its opposition to full marriage rights. We have achieved remarkable success in changing public attitudes on the subject in recent years, but it may take years before we can prevent congressional demagogues from blocking same-sex marriages in the District. As we continue our advocacy and education efforts, we must remain alert for opportunities to press ahead.
Working together, not hastily filing lawsuits, is the best way to build on our victories in California and Massachusetts. As an alliance of leading marriage equality advocates states, “Pushing the federal government before we have a critical mass of states recognizing same-sex relationships or suing in states where the courts aren’t ready is likely to get us bad rulings. Bad rulings will make it much more difficult for us to win marriage, and will certainly make it take much longer.”20
D.C. couples planning to ask the District to recognize their California marriages should keep in mind that D.C. courts have a history of hostility to marriage equality, and our judges are appointed by the White House, not the Mayor. The D.C. government is a far more favorable venue for the fight.
In the meantime, GLAA and our allies have been successful with an incremental strategy to expand D.C.’s domestic partnership law. The District now ranks among the top states in legal protections for same-sex couples, allowing them to protect each other and their children in times of crisis.
We wish to make it clear that, in GLAA’s candidate ratings, we will not regard agreement with our cautious strategy as sufficient without explicit endorsement of marriage equality. Notwithstanding the general consensus that the District should carefully judge the moment to move forward on a same-sex marriage bill, when we ask, “Do you support legal recognition of marriages between partners of the same sex?” we expect an answer of “Yes.” There are two crucial parts of the fight for equality: the goal itself and the strategy for reaching it. We need our elected officials to support us on both. Candidates unwilling to stand with us on this fundamental issue have no grounds to complain when we penalize them accordingly.
B. Domestic Partnership
For the sake of equity, D.C. needs to provide all of the applicable rights and responsibilities of marriage to domestic partners. However, domestic partnerships are not equivalent to marriage and should not be considered an acceptable substitute. Separate is inherently unequal.
GLAA was instrumental in codifying D.C.’s domestic partners law, the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992, which Congress finally allowed us to implement in 2002. GLAA’s incremental approach to the issue, crafted by former GLAA President Bob Summersgill, has been a complete success. With the unanimous passage of additional enhancing laws in the intervening years,21
registered domestic partners are now granted nearly all of the rights and responsibilities of marriage.22
Only California and Massachusetts have more expansive laws than D.C.
We are encouraged by the widespread adoption of domestic partner benefits in private industry, including here in the Washington area. More than half of Fortune 500 companies have implemented such programs, including most of those headquartered in the District of Columbia. However, some businesses do not recognize domestic partnerships. The District government should refuse special privileges to companies that deny domestic partners the same benefits they offer to married couples. In addition, we believe that the Council should explore methods by which contractors seeking to do business with the District would be required to provide domestic partner benefits. This would help D.C. reach the goal of universal health coverage.
C. Recognition of Same-Sex Married Couples from Other Jurisdictions
D.C. is an international city and a tourist destination. People from all over the world live, work, and visit the District everyday. Opposite-sex married couples never need to worry if their marriages will be recognized in D.C. Same-sex couples from Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, and numerous countries can register their domestic partnership or civil union and be similarly recognized as domestic partners in the District. Same-sex married couples from Massachusetts, California, Canada, Norway, The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and South Africa do not know if their marriages will be recognized when they travel to D.C. It is unclear if they can make medical decisions for each other or even visit each other in hospitals should one fall ill or be in an accident. D.C. should recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions and end this inequality.
D. Anti-Marriage Efforts in D.C.
A bill in Congress was reintroduced by the late Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) last year to prohibit the District of Columbia from legalizing same-sex marriage. H.R. 107 states, “In the District of Columbia, for all legal purposes, ‘marriage’ means the union of one man and one woman.” GLAA opposes this and any other attempt by Congress to impose a ban on same-sex marriage. This is an attack not only on gay people but on home rule and democracy in the District.
A ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage was twice proposed by Lisa L. Greene of northeast Washington. The initiative was withdrawn when the Board of Elections notified Ms. Greene that it was not in proper legislative format. The initiative is likely to be brought back, and we must be prepared for it. GLAA supported the establishment of the non-profit Foundation for All D.C. Families to conduct voter education and research on this issue. We expect all elected officials in D.C. to oppose such an initiative, whether or not they support same-sex civil marriage.
E. Right to Name Children
Parents should be free to choose any name for their child. Current law—D.C. Official Code § 7-205(e)(5)—only allows the mother’s name, the father’s name, some combination of both, or a family name to be chosen when it is accompanied by an affidavit. Unfortunately, this creates a discriminatory situation for same-sex couples that don’t share the same name.
Only D.C. and seven other states have this restriction. Former D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson introduced legislation in November 2002 to grant parents complete freedom in choosing names, but it was defeated in a close vote. Parents must be provided wide latitude in the naming of their children, one of the most intimate decisions parents can make.