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Weddings continue, despite congressional scare

D.C. courthouse flooded with requests for marriage licenses



Same-sex marriages, including the March 14 union of Will Knicely and Bob Whitman, continued this week in D.C. despite efforts from one U.S. senator to stop the ceremonies. (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) has backed off pushing an amendment aimed at overturning D.C.’s same-sex marriage law — most likely because his Republican colleagues joined Senate Democrats in opposing his plan to attach it to an aviation bill, according to Capitol Hill insiders.

The amendment, which Bennett filed with the Senate clerk March 11, would have prohibited D.C. from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the city allows voters to decide the issue through a referendum or initiative.

Bennett’s unsuccessful attempt to advance the amendment came as nearly 700 couples have applied for a marriage license at the city’s Marriage Bureau since the same-sex marriage law took effect March 3. Most of those couples have been same-sex couples.

And according to a spokesperson for the D.C. Superior Court, which operates the Marriage Bureau, an unprecedented number of people applying for marriage licenses are requesting to be married in civil ceremonies offered free of charge at the courthouse.

“We have probably close to 400 weddings requested,” said spokesperson Leah Gurowitz. “Between two-thirds and three-quarters [of couples applying for marriage licenses] are requesting a wedding at the Marriage Bureau.

“So we’re getting them scheduled. We’re calling everybody and we’re trying to just use our space and our time as advantageously as possible.”

Gurowitz acknowledged that late last week, the Marriage Bureau’s phone answering system became overloaded, and some callers received messages that the voicemail boxes were full and incoming messages could not be left.

“It’s taking some time — a day or two — to return calls,” she said. “But we are returning all the calls and getting the weddings set as soon as possible.”

Although Bennett filed his D.C. marriage amendment last week, he did not formally introduce it before Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed by unanimous consent to an approved list of amendments for a Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill, the measure to which Benefit intended to attach his amendment.

The bipartisan-approved list doesn’t include his amendment, preventing him from bringing it up at this time.

Bennett’s office did not return calls seeking to determine why he did not offer the amendment before the list restricting new amendments was approved.

“I doubt that he just voluntarily withdrew his amendment,” said Daniel Penchina, a lobbyist with the Raben Group, a political consulting firm that works with LGBT rights groups.

“My guess is they were trying to put together a package of amendments that could be considered and they agreed that his would not be part of it,” Penchina said. “And someone in his party leadership called and said, ‘Why don’t you save this for another day?’ That’s me speculating, but that’s probably what happened.”

Max Gleishman, press secretary for Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate’s majority whip, said Senate Republicans clearly supported a consent agreement that did not include the Bennett amendment.

“So I’m not sure why it wasn’t offered,” Gleischman said. “But it was not. And so therefore we’ve locked in, through a consent agreement, a finite list of amendments. And that’s not one of the ones on the list.”

Bennett’s proposed amendment, which was published in the March 11 Congressional Record, is identical to a freestanding bill that he and seven other Republicans introduced Feb. 2. The bill’s stated purpose is “to protect the democratic process and the right of the people of the District of Columbia to define marriage.”

According to the Congressional Record, Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) joined Bennett in filing the amendment as a proposed attachment to the FAA authorization bill, which is being considered on the Senate floor. The authorization measure is being pushed by Senate Democratic leaders and is considered essential for continued operation of U.S. aviation related programs, including the nation’s air traffic control system.

Both the amendment and Bennett’s free-standing bill say, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, including the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, the government of the District of Columbia shall not issue a marriage license to any couple of the same sex until the people of the District of Columbia have the opportunity to hold a referendum or initiative on the question of whether the District of Columbia should issue same-sex marriage licenses.”

Paul Strauss, who lobbies the U.S. Senate as an informal shadow senator on D.C.-related issues, said unconfirmed reports that Bennett was planning to introduce an amendment to block the city’s same-sex marriage law surfaced last week on Capitol Hill.

“It could potentially force an up or down vote on gay marriage,” Strauss said. “This is certainly something that Democrats and at least some Republicans want to avoid.”

D.C. gay activist Bob Summersgill, who has coordinated local efforts to persuade the city government to support same-sex marriage equality, said Bennett and other lawmakers opposed to the marriage law are likely to launch a stronger effort to overturn it later this year.

“What we have to be most worried about is the D.C. appropriations bill,” he said, which usually comes up before Congress in late summer or fall.

Summersgill noted that while many lawmakers object to attaching a D.C. gay marriage amendment to an aviation measure or other unrelated bills, they would likely go along with attaching such an amendment to the city’s annual appropriations bill, which specifically addresses D.C. issues.

“It will be germane on that bill,” he said.

But as Bennett backed down on his marriage amendment, the National Organization for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex marriage laws throughout the country, appeared to inject the gay marriage issue into the city’s upcoming mayoral election campaign.

Several local activists reported being contacted by an automated telephone poll on the D.C. gay marriage law that identified NOM as its sponsor. The activists said a recorded message stated that Mayor Adrian Fenty supports “gay marriage” and at least one of his lesser-known opponents in the 2010 mayoral race, former D.C. television news reporter Leo Alexander, opposes it.

D.C. resident Kevin Keller, who was among the people contacted for the phone poll, said it was obvious to him that the call was intended to stir up opposition to same-sex marriage rather than obtain an impartial assessment of how residents feel about the issue.

“I called Alexander’s campaign office, and we spoke,” Keller told DC Agenda. “He told me he opposes gay marriage on religious grounds, but he said he is not directly associated with the NOM.”

NOM executive director Brian Brown did not immediately return DC Agenda’s call on the matter. Local same-sex marriage opponents have vowed to work to defeat Fenty, who signed the same-sex marriage bill, and 11 of the 13-member City Council who voted for the bill when it passed in December.

But political observers say no serious candidates opposing gay marriage have surfaced so far to run against Fenty. And just a few people, whose chances are viewed as questionable, have emerged to run against Council members who voted for the marriage measure.

Alexander, who announced his candidacy in September, has raised less than $4,000 for his mayoral campaign, according to records filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance. Records from the office also show that Fenty has raised more than $3 million for his re-election campaign.

D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray (D-At Large), who has said he is considering running for mayor and is considered a viable candidate, voted for the marriage bill and, like Fenty, has been an outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage equality.

Another possible candidate for mayor, millionaire developer R. Donahue Peebles, has vowed to spend $5 million of his own money should he enter the mayoral race, making him a potentially serious contender. A Peebles spokesperson did not immediately return a DC Agenda call seeking to learn Peebles’ position on same-sex marriage.

Some reports have surfaced that he supports same-sex marriage but also favors a referendum or initiative to allow voters to decide the issue, but the reports could not be confirmed.

As developments surrounding the D.C. marriage law continue to unfold, many activists have said the joy experienced by the dozens of same-sex couples who have married or obtained marriage licenses so far has overshadowed the controversial aspects of the law.

Rev. Dwayne Johnson, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, which has a mostly gay congregation, said the church’s first same-sex wedding held March 14 had a profound impact on the more than 250 people in attendance.

Will Knicely and Bob Whitman, who have been together for more than 10 years and are MCC members, exchanged wedding vows as the church’s highly acclaimed chorus sang “Oh Happy Day,” said Johnson, who co-performed the wedding.

“I don’t think any of us were prepared for the emotion we witnessed,” he said. “It was like 39 years of hope culminating at that moment. People were applauding and applauding. We just let it go.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Steve

    March 19, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    I remember hearing that extra staff were on hand to process marriage applications, but there is no mention if extra staff / hours are being considered to deal with the backlog before some senate bill stops same sex marriages. Did Lou even ask about this?

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In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries

The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date



Governor Jared Polis and 1st Gentleman Marlon Reis exchange vows (Screenshot via CBS News Denver)

DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.

The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.

“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).

In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.

The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.

Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”

Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.

In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.


Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds

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U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Joint statement says church teachings support equality



More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.

The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.

The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.

“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.

“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.

The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.

“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.

“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said. 

DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.

The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.

He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.

Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.

Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”

The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.

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Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence

Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick



An I Am Human Foundation billboard along Atlanta's Downtown Connector expressway on Feb. 22, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.

For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.

A tribute to Tony McDade in downtown Asheville, N.C., in June 2020. McDade was a Black transgender man who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Tallahassee, Fla., on May 27, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future. 

Uplifting voices often silenced

Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C. 

Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches. 

“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.

Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests. 

“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.

Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community. 

“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick. 

Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.

What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?

The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.

“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”

“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick. 

She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news. 

Jasmyne Cannick (Photo courtesy of Jasmyne Cannick)

Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments. 

“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago. 

Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”

“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.

As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.

The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi. 

“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago. 

“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.

He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles. 

Cannick’s focus is on the Black community. 

“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.

She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces. 

She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils. 

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