It seems like yesterday, when in May 1993, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that existing marriage laws discriminated against gays and lesbians, a ruling our D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics has repeatedly rendered lately. Coincidentally, it was about this same time that I started to test my sea legs in the arena of LGBT politics and I remember many residents at the time starting to clamor for such rights here in the District of Columbia, which has always been at the forefront of the gay rights movement.
Of course, there were such calls for same-sex marriage years before a young and powerful group called the Human Rights Campaign helped to make this a nationwide issue. I wish I could say that these efforts are what have brought us to this day in which same-sex couples can legally register for marriage licenses in the District of Columbia.
I wish I could say that Harry Hay, Barbara Gittings, Frank Kameny and others laid the foundations for such a possibility.
I wish I could say that it was the tireless advocacy of GLAA’s Bob Summersgill, Craig Howell, Barrett Brick, Kevin Davis and Rick Rosendall, working with the support of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s Kurt Vorndran, Bradley Lewis, and Mario Acosta and the support of the DC Coalition’s Carlene Cheatam, Phillip Pannell and Sterling Washington to agree with the strategic decision to incrementally bring these rights.
I wish I could say it was the Foundation for All DC Families’ Peter Rosenstein, Cornelius Baker, Andy Litsky and Steve Gorman, who quietly raised the funds to conduct a poll on the issue five years ago. Or the late Wanda Alston, who organized the community to defeat a proposed ballot referendum back in 2004. I will always fondly remember Wanda’s passion at that first meeting in the 16th Street church basement.
I wish I could say it was because of our LGBT business owners like Deacon Maccubbin, Eric Little, Ed Bailey, Babak Movahedi, David Franco, Eric Hirschfield and David Lewis who generously offered their venues and financial backing.
I wish I could say it was the local Democratic Party, the Statehood Green Party, the leadership of the local Republican Party or the numerous ANC’s and neighborhood associations that endorsed and lobbied for marriage equality.
I wish I could say it was the product of former D.C. Council Chair Arrington Dixon, who first proposed such legislation more than 30 years ago or Council members Phil Mendelson and David Catania who worked together to create today’s bill or Council Chair Vincent Gray for his stewardship or Mayor Fenty for his signature. Or the nearly 300 people who came to testify at the longest Council hearing ever held in the District of Columbia.
I wish I could say it was because of the thousands upon thousands of DC LGBT voters and our straight allies who helped elect these progressive politicians.
I wish I could say it was because of the commitment from new leaders like Jeffrey Richardson, Chris Dyer, David Mariner, Brian Watson, Paquita Wiggins and Tim Mahoney or DC for Marriage’s Michael Crawford, Lane Hudson, Hilary Treat, Donald Hitchcock, Rev. Christine Wiley, Rev. Rainey Cheeks, Rev. Monique Ellison and Nick McCoy who educated our residents and faith communities.
I wish I could say it was because of the men, women and couples who simply have had the courage to come out to their friends, families and workplaces in their daily lives — an individual act that means more than all those listed above.
I can’t say these things because, unfortunately, the residents of the District of Columbia are beholden to the will of Congress. If the D.C. government had true legislative autonomy, marriage equality would have become law in this progressive city years ago. I strongly believe that any earlier attempt to enact full marriage equality these past 17 years would have backfired and a Republican-controlled Congress, with support of Blue Dog Democrats, would have imposed a forever binding Defense of Marriage Act upon the District. In hindsight, I am glad we waited.
What I can say is that when Osama bin Laden unleashed his hate upon our nation’s shores, our President George W. Bush used the attack to declare war against Iraq. This initially popular war gradually lost favor with the American public and opened the door for a young senator named Barack Obama.
I can say thank you President Obama for your unifying message of change and hope that not only propelled you into office but helped to create the unprecedented “super majority” in Congress for the Democratic Party.
I can say I’m thankful for the convergence of these events, and within this two-year window, that enabled the leadership of our community and the District government to work with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Harry Reid and many congressional staffers — gay and straight alike — to offset congressional intervention.
This is why it is more important than ever for us to continue to advocate for D.C. voting rights and statehood. We need a full voting member in the Congress of the United States. We need Eleanor Holmes Norton to serve as a full voting member who can devote her talents to legislative pursuits and not have to serve in the role of sentry guarding against potential congressional intervention that at any time could overturn D.C. marriage equality or any other progressive legislation passed in the District of Columbia.
We must not let a new Congress negate this historic law!
I ask you to join me in sending a big thank you to our District and congressional leaders and many other community advocates whose names I have not mentioned and I encourage you to continue to speak out for equality.
Today we celebrate! Tomorrow we continue the struggle.
David Meadows is former president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and a member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee.