- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Stakeholders on both sides of the same-sex-marriage debate argued passionately before two D.C. government panels Monday over a bill that would legalize the unions and that many consider to be virtually assured of passage.

About 100 witnesses testified before the D.C. Council on legislation introduced this month that already has the support of 11 of 13 council members. That led some of those who testified to accuse the council of ignoring their opinions.

“We’re just here for window dressing,” said Kathryn Pearson-West of Northeast, an opponent of the bill, during afternoon testimony at the District’s city hall.

The bill would expand current laws, which recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, to allow such marriages to be performed in the District. Currently, four states perform same-sex marriages. New Hampshire is scheduled to begin allowing same-sex marriages in 2010, and Maine voters will consider the issue in a ballot initiative next month.

The council hearing, which began at 3:30 p.m. and stretched late into the evening, drew a number of openly gay D.C. residents who discussed same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue.

Many of the opponents were members of the District’s faith community, who oppose the bill and have sought to put the issue before D.C. voters.

Council member David A. Catania, who introduced the bill - called the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 - said the rhetoric could lead to a divide in the city.

“I believe it is at our peril that we cast religious freedom against civil equality,” he said in his opening remarks.

A second council hearing, described as a continuation of Monday’s hearing, is scheduled for Nov. 2.

The hearing drew many of the same witnesses who earlier in the day spoke before the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. The elections board is considering a proposal for a referendum that would restrict marriage to one man and one woman.

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. of the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville has led the effort against same-sex marriage and led a coalition of religious leaders who sought last month to have the issue placed on the ballot. He called again on Monday for the subject to be put before voters.

“Even though it is totally appropriate for me to talk about faith, this is a secular, civil proceeding,” Mr. Jackson said. “It’s hard for a board of elections to deal with a statement like, ‘I believe in God.’ ”

About 80 of nearly 100 witnesses spoke in favor of the referendum, calling the right to vote on the issue a fundamental civil right in a city whose elected officials have long sought representation in Congress.

A D.C. Superior Court judge in July rejected an effort by Mr. Jackson and others to put to a public vote a council action granting recognition to same-sex marriages performed in other states, saying the public vote would violate the District’s Human Rights Act.

But Mr. Jackson’s supporters and others said denying the referendum would trample the democratic process and would open the door to other civil rights violations.

David Parker, of Windham, N.H., testified in favor of the referendum, citing a 2005 incident in Lexington, Mass., in which, he said, he was arrested while trying to meet with school officials regarding a dispute.

Mr. Parker said the arrest, which he attributed to his own civil disobedience, happened after his 5-year-old son’s school gave him a book containing gay themes without consulting Mr. Parker.

“They were willing to take a father who they knew had concerns and take him to jail,” Mr. Parker said. “They denied the will of the people, and the will of the people is such a fundamental thing in our history.”

Mark Levine, who spoke on behalf of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which represents the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, said the referendum could result in a law that would legalize discrimination.

“The [elections board] has no choice in this argument,” Mr. Levine said. “Even if you want to be bigoted, you can’t be, because the D.C. Code says you can’t discriminate based on sexual orientation.”

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who has supported gay rights, said he will sign the same-sex-marriage bill if it’s passed. The bill would then face a mandatory 30-day congressional review period, but it would not likely be overturned by the Democrat-controlled Congress.

• David C. Lipscomb can be reached at .

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide