March 3, 2010 | by Joshua Lynsen
Jubilant gay, lesbian couples begin to wed in D.C.

(Video by Steve Fox)

Washington, D.C., became the nation’s sixth jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriage Wednesday when it opened its marriage license application process to gay and lesbian couples.

More than one dozen couples lined up outside the D.C. Superior Court building — some arriving even before sunrise — to become the first same-sex pairs to obtain their applications to wed. Couples alternately smiled and wept as emotion swept the crowd.

“Love has won out over fear,” said Rev. Dennis Wiley, co-pastor at Covenant Baptist Church and co-chair of DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality. “Equality has won out over prejudice. Faith has won out over despair.”

Because of a mandatory waiting period, couples that applied for marriage licenses Wednesday won’t be able to marry until March 9.

But the Human Rights Campaign, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and other advocacy groups that have long sought same-sex marriage rights in the nation’s capital applauded Wednesday’s enactment of the Religious Freedom & Civil Marriage Equality Act of 2009.

“This law is an important step toward equal dignity, equal respect and equal rights for all residents of our nation’s capital,” said Joe Solmonese, HRC’s president. “Today represents a hard-fought victory for D.C. residents and a poignant reminder — here in the home of our federal government and most cherished national monuments — of the historic progress being made toward ensuring equality for all across the nation.”

Solmonese and Rea Carey, the Task Force’s executive director, thanked D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and D.C. City Council members who supported the same-sex marriage effort for their commitment to equality.

More than 100 same-sex couples applied for D.C. marriage licenses during the first hours they were available. (Photo by Joe Tresh)

“This is a profoundly moving moment for many D.C. same-sex couples and their families,” Carey said. “To finally be able to share and celebrate one’s love and commitment both publicly and legally is a lifelong dream for many.”

Couples applied for their marriage licenses one day after U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts denied a request that Washington’s same-sex marriage law be prevented from taking effect, a move that would have given opponents more time to organize a voter referendum to overturn the law.

Roberts, who ruled on the matter on behalf of the court, issued a three-page decision saying Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church and others opposed to the marriage law failed to show in their request that they could win the case on its merits, or that allowing the law to take effect would cause them irreparable harm.

Roberts said the opponents’ argument that the D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics acted improperly by denying the referendum request on groups that it would violate the city’s Human Rights Act “has some force.”

“Without addressing the merits of the petitioners’ underlying claim, however, I conclude that a stay is not warranted,” he wrote.

Roberts cited past rulings of the Supreme Court that have said it’s the court’s practice to “defer to the decisions of the courts of the District of Columbia on matters of exclusively local concern.” The D.C. Superior Court and Court of Appeals previously ruled against Jackson’s request for a stay of the same-sex marriage law.

“As the courts have uniformly recognized in upholding D.C.’s broad anti-discrimination laws,” Solmonese said, “no one should have to have their marriages — or any of their civil rights — put to a public vote.”

D.C. court officials were quick to welcome the more then 100 same-sex couples that arrived before noon Wednesday to seek a marriage license.

Leah Gurowitz, a court spokesperson, described the courthouse halls as being festive as clerks processed about 20 to 25 couples each hour. She said the couples took to congratulating each other after completing the marriage application process.

“As each couple walks out of the Marriage Bureau — and there’s a long line — everybody claps and cheers,” she said. “People have been very festive.”

Gurowitz said 101 same-sex couples checked in before 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. She noted that so many couples came to the courthouse that additional markers indicating each couple’s position in line were printed.

“It is a line and it’s going to take an hour or two, or for some people three,” she said. “We’re just going as quickly as we can.”

D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Lee Satterfield, who oversees the court’s Marriage Bureau, said the influx of marriage license applications was far above average. The court normally gets about 10 to 12 applications each day.

To help reduce wait time and ensure the application process goes smoothly, Satterfield said there are several things same-sex couples can do before they arrive at the courthouse.

“For instance, come with a complete application,” he said. “We loaded the application on our web site: dccourts.gov. You can go into the Superior Court section, or actually, there’s a link on the front page for folk to go right to the Marriage Bureau section and get the application so they complete it.

“I think it’s important that folk — some of the things we see happen to folk that end up having to come back is that they don’t come down with their identification because the law requires that you have to be 18 years and older.

“And so if there’s one party coming down, they may come down with their own but not with their partner’s — so they have to make sure they have some identification, whether it’s a driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, not just for themselves but the person they’re marrying.”

Satterfield also noted that couples applying for marriage licenses should bring $35 in cash or a money order, plus $10 for the marriage certificate.

Couples planning to return to the courthouse for a civil marriage ceremony should expect to wait at least 10 days before a time is available, Satterfield said. But once scheduled, same-sex couples need not worry that a court official might decline to marry them.

“You know the law, as I understand it in the District of Columbia, does not allow that when it comes to employees of the court,” he said. “It does so for clergy and others. It allows them to decline. It doesn’t allow for our folk to do so.

“While I don’t discuss personnel matters, what I will say is this: We expect to have anyone doing and officiating weddings to be officiating all weddings.”

Staff writer Lou Chibbaro Jr. contributed to this article.

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