June wedding jangle
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Bay Windows
June 28, 2007


June wedding jangle

On June 4, the California Assembly again passed a bill to give same-sex couples in that state the ability to marry, with all the legal rights and responsibilities and the social support that marriage entails. On June 19, the New York State Assembly passed a similar bill. In between, on June 14, the Massachusetts constitutional convention defeated a proposed amendment that would have ended civil marriage equality in the only state that now has it. These advances in three states in a single month have vindicated gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny’s statement that “the tide of history is with us.”

Conversely, lest these events inspire overconfidence, a double dose of reality has been administered, with California’s governor promising another veto and New York’s state senate refusing to act. Across the country, our warriors have a long way to go. To succeed, they need perseverance, a battle plan and community support. For a view from the trenches, consider the internecine squabbles in Washington, D.C.

In a blog entry early this year, former Washington Blade editor Chris Crain, who celebrated Gay Pride this month in São Paulo, Brazil, slammed my colleagues and me in the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington (GLAA) for failing to push our city council to pass a marriage equality bill. Crain emphasized our advanced age and wrote that we seemed “far more interested in finding new homes for the seedy strip clubs displaced by the city’s new baseball stadium than they are in marriage.” He added, “In the District of Columbia, the people’s elected representatives are ready to open up marriage for gay couples.... If only [GLAA] would step out of the strip clubs long enough to stop giving the politicians the cover to do nothing.”

There were kernels of truth in what Crain wrote. I, for example, am 51, and GLAA President Barrett Brick is 53—no spring chickens—while the still-active Kameny is 82. We have indeed worked hard to enable relocation of the gay clubs displaced by the Washington Nationals’ new ballpark. Where Crain is wrong (as opposed to merely vicious) is in supposing that our disagreement with him over the strategy and timing of a same-sex marriage bill for D.C. is based on our having less enthusiasm for the cause. GLAA has actually done most of the work toward equality for gay families in D.C., while some prefer to snipe from the sidelines.

Crain is also wrong in stating that our city council would be ready to move on a marriage bill if only GLAA weren’t giving them cover to do nothing. A narrow majority of D.C. Council members does indeed support civil marriage equality, a fact available to Crain only because GLAA has been asking them and publishing their answers for more than a dozen years. Nevertheless, most council members are given pause by the historic hostility toward both gay rights and D.C. self-rule on the part of our city’s overlords in the U.S. Congress, even under Democratic majorities.

D.C. has neither legislative nor budgetary autonomy, nor even a voting member of Congress. Yet Crain and others in the Right Now brigade show no interest in working for these goals. Like the notorious Rosie Ruiz, who years ago was declared the winner of the Boston Marathon before it was discovered that she had not passed any of the checkpoints along the route, these people appear to think they can claim victory without running the race. D.C.’s subordinate relationship to Congress makes it ill-suited to lead the marriage fight. Instead of shooting the messenger, the instant-gratification caucus should try explaining how GLAA is wrong. Alternatively, they could stop attacking their allies and work to elect more pro-equality members of Congress.

I myself am a member of a couple “aching to marry,” as Crain puts it. But wanting is not having. The path to success has been shown to us this glorious month by activists in Massachusetts, California and New York, though the last two remain short of the goal. Victory seems only a matter of time, but reaching it nationwide will require many more years of assiduous, engaged effort.

Because Congress is accustomed to using its legislative power over the District of Columbia, Washingtonians are smarter to wait for a trend to emerge from more states extending Massachusetts’ signal victory—not just winning marriage but keeping it. Pride Month 2007 brought us a few steps closer to that critical mass, giving weary activists reason for celebration and hope.

Copyright © 2007 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.