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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Nation’s Capital Next for Gay Marriage?

by Kilian Melloy, EDGE Contributor

Speculation on the outcome of the Nov. election has taken on a new dimension: if Democrats increase their majority in Congress, our nation’s capital may be the next jurisdiction to extend marriage equality to gay and lesbian Americans.

The Washington Blade reported on Sept. 18 that Washington, D.C. may see legislation approved that would offer legal parity to gay and lesbian families.

But it depends on more than who is sitting in Congress; the ongoing push and pull over marriage equality in Calif. will also have an impact, with a defeat for gay and lesbian families likely to have a chilling effect on similar legislation elsewhere in the nation, including in the capital.

However, should family equality be defended and a proposed anti-gay amendment to the Calif. constitution be defeated at the polls, there is some expectation that a bill to offer marriage equality would pass the City Council of the District of Columbia, the Washington Blade reported.

The article said that D.C.’s mayor, Adrian Fenty, and an overwhelming majority of the city’s councilors have expressed support for such a measure, with the likelihood of a congressional reversal being the only reason the city’s legislature has not yet approved the bill.

An unnamed source in the city’s government was quoted in the article as saying, "We are reasonably confident that enough fair-minded Democrats will win election to the House and Senate in November to give us the votes we need to block an attempt to overturn a marriage bill."

However, if all politics is local politics, that is especially true when it comes to civil rights measures such as Calif.’s legalization of marriage equality last May--a right for gay and lesbian families that is now vigorously under attack from both religious and social organizations of a conservative bent.

Said Freedom to Marry’s executive director, Evan Wolfson, "Where California goes, so goes the nation."

Added Wolfson, "When we hold on to California, it means that in January, the next Congress will have a minimum of 15 percent of its members representing people living in [Mass. and Calif.,] states where gay people can marry."

The outcome of the Calif. battle remains to be seen, though recent reports indicate that pro-family equality groups are losing the financial front in the marriage equality war--a development that could prove decisive at the Calif. polls this Nov.

The Washington Blade said that according to unnamed sources, two openly gay D.C. city councilmen, David Catania and Jim Graham, are ready to bring a marriage equality bill to the floor as early as Jan. or next year.

The bill already has up to six willing co-sponsors, the Blade reported its sources as saying.

The Blade quoted its source as saying, "The idea is to send it to the Hill as soon as possible after the November election and as far as possible from the [2010 midterm] election."

Such timing would provide the maximum possible buffer for pro-family equality lawmakers to stand up for marriage parity with minimal risk to their political careers.

The results of the primary election for D.C.’s legislature indicated that voters were not choosing against candidates based on their support for gay and lesbian families, the article said, noting that several had already announced their support for any marriage equality legislation that might be introduced.

By the same token, one council member who was victorious in the primary had said that she favored civil unions, though not marriage for gay and lesbian families, the article reported.

However, equality advocates are looking even beyond the possible outcomes in the Nov. election, whatever that may hold for D.C., Calif., and the nation’s Congress.

Even if marriage equality is granted to D.C. residents, the article said, family equality proponents need to be ready for the almost-inevitable voter referendum attempt to rescind the law, which, if the struggle in Calif. is any indication, will bring heated rhetoric and huge sums of money into play in the city’s politics.

Demographics play a part, also, the article said, noting that polls in Calif. show that a majority of African American residents have indicated support for the anti-gay-family amendment.

A similar demographic voting pattern is thought to be likely should such a referendum battle be fought in a post-family equality D.C.

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