July 14, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Vote on D.C. anti-bullying bill expected in fall
Phil Mendelson

Council member Phil Mendelson chairs a committee overseeing the Marriage Officiant Amendment Act. (Washington Blade file photo)

Action on legislation pending before the D.C. Council that would prohibit bullying in the city’s schools, parks, and libraries, among other places, has been put on hold until the Council returns from its summer recess in September.

A separate bill of interest to the LGBT community that would allow a notary public to perform a civil marriage at a location other than the D.C. courthouse remains stalled in the Council’s Judiciary Committee since the panel held a hearing on the measure last October.

The Bullying and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011 has strong support in the LGBT community following widely publicized incidents of gay teen suicides linked to school bullying. Nearly all Council members have signed on as co-sponsors or co-introducers of the bill.

But LGBT advocacy groups believe the bill as introduced doesn’t have adequate enforcement and implementation provisions. They are working closely with Council members to prepare one or more amendments to strengthen the bill, according to Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance.

The bill requires the city’s public and charter schools, the Department of Parks and Recreation, the city’s public libraries, and the University of the District of Columbia to adopt “a policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation or bullying” in their respective facilities, buildings and grounds.

The legislation defines harassment, intimidation or bullying as “any gesture or written, verbal or physical act, including electronic communication, that is reasonably perceived as being motivated either by any actual or perceived characteristic, such as race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or a mental, physical or sensory handicap, or by any other distinguishing characteristic.”

LGBT youth representatives joined officials from LGBT organizations, including the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, a national group that monitors anti-LGBT bullying, in testifying for the bill and for amendments to strengthen it at a Council hearing in May.

Meanwhile, supporters of the Marriage Officiant Amendment Act of 2011, which was authored by Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), say it’s aimed at giving couples – gay or straight – who are interested in a non-religious civil marriage the option of having such a marriage performed at a location outside the D.C. Superior Court building.

Under current city law, civil marriages must be performed at the courthouse by a court-appointed marriage “officiant” unless the parties getting married know a judge and the judge agrees to perform the marriage at another location, such as a banquet hall or a private home.

Backers of the bill say D.C. Superior Court judges, who are authorized to perform marriages under city law, do so only on a limited basis and are not available to most people seeking a civil marriage.

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who chairs the committee overseeing the bill, could not be immediately reached to determine whether he plans to move the bill out of committee for a vote anytime soon.

At the time of the hearing in October, Mendelson told the Blade he believed more research was needed on the bill and he had no immediate plans to call for a vote in committee or before the full Council.

“As far as I know, the notary bill will not be marked up,” gay activist Bob Summersgill told the Blade last week. “The bill is severely flawed and will need to be completely rewritten.”

Summersgill testified in favor of the bill at the October hearing. But he called for major changes that would allow any adult to perform a civil marriage by obtaining a one-day authorization to become a marriage officiant.

Massachusetts and some counties in California have similar one-day officiant laws that allow a couple planning to marry to select a friend or family member or anyone else of their choosing to perform their civil marriage. In Massachusetts the person seeking to perform the marriage must apply in advance and pay a $25 fee for the one-day authorization.

South Carolina, Florida and Maine have laws that allow a notary public to perform civil weddings.

Gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large) and Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) joined Cheh in co-introducing the D.C. Marriage Officiant Amendment Act last year. Gay Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) signed on as co-sponsors. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) co-sponsored the bill last year but has not signed on as a co-sponsor this year.

Cheh told the Blade in an e-mail that she would consider the changes proposed by Summersgill to broaden the bill to include a one-day officiant provision similar to Massachusetts’ civil marriage law.

“I don’t know exactly why the bill hasn’t moved,” Cheh said. “Council member Mendelson has had a huge volume of stuff to move through his committee, and I have no reason to think he is opposed to the bill,” she said.

Steven Lowe, a D.C. resident who testified in support of the bill at last October’s hearing, said the bill as currently written provides couples seeking a civil marriage an option for having their marriage ceremony outside the courthouse. He describes the courthouse as “bureaucratic” and unappealing to many couples seeking a civil marriage.

Lowe said he doesn’t object to Summersgills’ call for a one-day officiant provision that would be available to all adults.

“But the point for me was to have something less restrictive and a non-religious option” in a location that people can choose, Lowe said. “So I supported the notary public bill because it was at least a move in the right direction.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

1 Comment
  • If this bill is about bullying then I say it needs to be passed because a person has a right to live in peace without physical and verbal abuse from others. And bullying can lead to some serious crime, or death by suicide.

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