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Anniversary for marriage

One year after the first same-sex couples wed in D.C., all eyes are on Maryland

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Candy Holmes (left) and Darlene Garner on their wedding day last March. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

As the battle over marriage equality in Maryland reaches its endgame, the sparks it throws are reflected in the lives of real people, including a married couple wed just next door in Washington on the first day the D.C. same-sex marriage law went into effect in March of 2010.

Residents of Bowie, Md., one of the three couples wed with fanfare at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters on March 9, 2010  — Candy Holmes and Darlene Garner — looked back this week at the struggles to win equality in D.C. and the continuing efforts in Maryland.

“In retrospect, it’s been a mixed year,” Holmes says. “Because it was a great year to be married in D.C. in my hometown and Darlene’s adopted city, really it was a year of a piece of heaven, once we got through the murky waters that it might be taken away by the courts. It was the realization of something long desired by us, to be married, and legally acknowledged so, to the love of my life.”

“But when we come back to where we live, in Maryland, where our marriage is not recognized, the struggle goes on because we were free to be married in D.C., but we are not free to be married in Maryland — yet.”

Holmes and Garner — who dated on and off for 14 years before getting married — are both ordained ministers in the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a liberal, mostly gay Christian denomination — and now they are determined to see the blessings afforded to them by marriage become theirs by right also where they live.

“We have so much enjoyed the last 12 months as a married couple,” Garner says. “We have been completely embraced by our extended and blended families — children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren, cousins — and I will be eternally grateful to the D.C. government elected officials, and also remain hopeful that the elected officials in my home state will follow the example set in our national capital.”

When Garner and Holmes boast of their blended, extended family, they are not talking idly. Garner is the mother of four, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of three, the eldest of whom is now 3 years old.

Holmes considers Garner’s offspring hers too.

The giddiness and hoopla from a year ago now long since subsided, how do they assess what marriage equality means to them today? Once they were married, “there’s been a big difference at work,” says Holmes, who has worked as a manager in the federal government’s GAO (now called the Government Accountability office) for 34 years. “It shows up in how people greet me and treat me, the respect and regard from others.”

Statistics from D.C. Superior Court’s Marriage Bureau show a surge of weddings in the District, more than double the number from the prior year, March 2009-March 2010.

Those numbers — 6,604 marriages in D.C. from March 3, 2010, when the same-gender right to marry, enacted in December 2009, went into effect, through March 2, 2011 — vaulted over the number from the prior year, when only 3,101 couples applied for marriage licenses in D.C.

The city doesn’t track how many straight couples there were versus same-sex couples, but the court attributes the spike to the change in the marriage law.

Speaking last week at an event held to celebrate enactment of the new law, Mayor Vincent Gray said he “was thrilled to hear this,” adding that the new law “has been so smoothly implemented,” even though he acknowledged that he has lost some friends due to his own outspoken support for the measure when he served on City Council until being elected mayor in November. But he said that was a price he willingly has paid for doing what he called “the right thing.”

As for the possibility that the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives might still seek to roll back the new law, the mayor said he was aware it could happen, but “I haven’t heard anything yet” about it.

And so the dust in D.C. has settled. And in the wake of the new law have come party planners and experts in wedding officiating like Deborah Cummings-Thomas and Sheila Alexander-Reid, both licensed and ordained to perform weddings, lesbians and partners since May of last year in Marry Me in D.C., which helps connect people wanting to marry in D.C. with what Cummings-Thomas calls “our network of gay and gay-friendly service providers who celebrate, not just tolerate them on their wedding day.”

On March 19, Marry Me in D.C. hosts a “Marriage Equality Wedding Expo,” from noon to 4 p.m. at the Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Avenue NW, on Capitol Hill. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door. Advance registration is encouraged at marrymeindc.com.

Robin McGehee (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Marriage not a happy ending for all

With the legalization of same-sex marriage comes, inevitably, gay divorce.

Robin McGehee has felt its sting. The 37-year-old California resident and lesbian who decided to wed in June 2008, says she decided to un-wed a year and a month later, in July 2009. She and her partner took their vows under California’s same-sex marriage law prior to its being overturned by the state’s voters in November 2008 ballot when Proposition 8 passed. Their marriage remained valid however under a grandfather clause.

But it fell victim nevertheless, in an ironic way, says McGehee, since it was the fight against its passage that brought her into the fray to oppose Prop 8.

After getting iced out of volunteer work at her son’s Catholic school, she became a gay activist and helped organize the National Equality March, held in Washington in October 2009. As a newly mobilized activist, she says, she was “on the road almost every weekend for months at a time.”

And that activism led her away, she acknowledges, from placing a focus needed at home, to repair the fraying ties that bound her with her spouse, a woman 19 years her senior, with whom she had joined in 2001 in a domestic partnership contract under California law. They had been a couple for 11 years at the time of their wedding.

She says she “met someone on the road, someone I connected with emotionally.” Basically, she admits, “I fell for someone else.” They have now been together for a year and a half, and they face, McGehee says, “the same challenges,” because now she is also working a second job, as executive director of GetEqual, a group that focuses on using non-violent civil disobedience to advance LGBT rights.

As for her former spouse, they remain in constructive discussions over dual issues, caught up still in legal proceedings over the terms of ending both their marriage and their earlier domestic partnership. Closure should come, she expects, “any time now.”

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats backs Robert White over Bowser

LGBTQ group endorses Erin Palmer over incumbent Mendelson

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Council member Robert White won the backing of Capital Stonewall Democrats in his bid for mayor over incumbent Muriel Bowser. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, announced on May 17 that it has selected D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) over incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser and political newcomer Erin Palmer over D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson as its endorsed candidates in the city’s June 21 Democratic primary.

With Bowser and Mendelson as well as White having longstanding records of support for LGBTQ rights and Palmer expressing strong support for the LGBTQ community, local observers say the LGBTQ Democratic group’s 163 voting members appear to have based their endorsement decisions on other pressing issues facing the city rather than only LGBTQ specific issues.

In other races, Capital Stonewall Democrats, formerly known as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which was founded in 1976, voted to endorse incumbent Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau over gay former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary and community activist Sabel Harris who are running against Nadeau.

In the Ward 5 Council race, the group has endorsed gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker in a five-candidate contest for the seat being vacated by incumbent Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who ran unsuccessfully for the office of D.C. Attorney General.

The group has also endorsed Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who is running unopposed in the primary; D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who’s favored to win re-election against two lesser-known opponents; and D.C. shadow U.S. Rep. Oye Owolewa, who’s also favored over a lesser known opponent.

Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it did not make an endorsement in the Ward 3 and At-Large D.C. Council races and in the D.C. Attorney General race because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote under the group’s longstanding rules for endorsements.

By not endorsing in the At-Large race, the group passed over incumbent At-Large Council member Anita Bonds, a longtime supporter of LGBTQ issues. Bonds is being challenged by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Gore, former D.C. shadow House member Nate Fleming, and former D.C. Council staffer Dexter Williams.

In the hotly contested Ward 3 Council race, nine candidates are competing for the seat being vacated by incumbent Mary Cheh, another longtime LGBTQ rights supporter.

In the race for attorney general, three prominent local attorneys — Brian Schwalb, Ryan Jones, and Bruce Spiva — are competing for the AG position being vacated by incumbent Karl Racine, who chose not to run for re-election.

Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsements follow a series of five LGBTQ candidate forums the group held virtually in which most of the candidates running in the various races attended.
In the group’s mayoral form, Bowser was the only one of the four mayoral contenders that did not attend. Her supporters said she had a conflicting event organized by gay Democratic activist Kurt Vorndran that prevented her from attending the Stonewall event.

Those who attended the mayoral forum were Robert White, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and former attorney and community activist James Butler.
A detailed vote tally released by Capital Stonewall Democrats shows the vote count for each of the endorsed candidates as well as candidates in the races for which the group did not make an endorsement.

In the mayoral race, Robert White received 120 votes, or 74.5 percent. Bowser came in second place with 37 votes or 23.0 percent; Trayon White received just two votes or 1.2 percent, with Butler receiving just 1 vote at 0.6 percent. One vote was cast for no endorsement.

In the D.C. Council Chair race, Palmer received 89 votes or 60.1 percent, just surpassing the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement. Mendelson received 48 votes or 32.4 percent. Eleven votes were cast for no endorsement.

In the Ward 1 Council race, Nadeau received 100 votes or 69.4 percent compared to gay candidate Czapary, who came in second place with 23 votes or 16.0 percent. Candidate Sabel Harris came in third place with 9 votes or 6.3 percent, with a no endorsement selection receiving 12 votes or 8.3 percent.

In the Ward 5 contest, gay school board member Parker received 91 votes or 64.5 percent. Candidate Faith Hubbard came in second with 31 votes or 22.0 percent. The remaining candidates received fewer than 10 votes each, including former At-Large and former Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange, who received 5 votes or 3.5 percent.

“Since Capital Stonewall Democrats has only 221 members, and only 163 bothered to vote, this is clearly not representative of the LGBTQ+ community in the District,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who is supporting Bowser for mayor.

But longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate A. Billy S. Jones-Hennin is among the local activists who view the Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement of lesser-known challengers – most of whom have progressive, left-leaning views – as a reflection of changes in the demographics of the LGBTQ community and the Stonewall group’s members.

“At the forefront for voters is who they feel can address core problems like crime, open drug transactions, and increased homeless populations,” Jones-Hennin told the Blade. “Just asking voters for support based on their support of the LGBTQ+ community in the past does not cut it,” he said. “We are multi-faceted voters looking for new, more progressive and aggressive leadership.”

The Capital Stonewall Democrats list of endorsements as well as races with no endorsement can be viewed below:

• Mayor: Robert White, with 74.5% of the round one vote
• DC Attorney General: No Endorsement
• DC Council Chair: Erin Palmer, with 60.1% of the round one vote
• Ward 1 Council: Brianne K. Nadeau, with 69.4% of the round one vote
• Ward 3 Council: No Endorsement
• Ward 5 Council: Zachary Parker, with 64.5% of the round one vote
• Ward 6 Council: Charles Allen, with 83.2% of the round one vote
• At-Large Council: No Endorsement
• Delegate to U.S. House of Representatives: Eleanor Holmes Norton, with 69.7% of the round one vote
• U.S. Representative: Oye Owolewa, with 66.1% of the round one vote

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District of Columbia

Pannell resigns in protest from Ward 8 Council member’s LGBT Commission

Says Trayon White has no out member of his staff

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Phil Pannell resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights activist Phil Pannell announced on May 6 that he has resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) on grounds that White does not have an LGBTQ person on his Council staff.

White’s office has said the Council member created the commission to “focus on the specific needs of this community” in his role as a supporter of LGBTQ equality.

“For me, this is a major issue of inclusion, affirmative action and diversity,” Pannell said in an email message announcing his resignation. “I as a Black Gay man cannot in good conscience continue to be a member of my Councilmember’s LGBT Commission when he has no one from my community on his staff,” Pannell’s announcement message continues.

“This is hypocritical at best and structurally homophobic at worst,” he said. “I deeply resent and refuse to be used as anyone’s homosexual prop for any purposes. Therefore, I resign from the commission effective immediately.”

In response to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on Pannell’s resignation, Julia Jessie, White’s director of communications, said White’s Council office “follows all legal HR procedures and hires based on experience and skillset.” Jessie added, “As an employer, we do not discriminate or consider a person’s race, color, religion, or sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity, when making decisions about employment qualifications.”

According to Jessie, “We do, however, harvest a safe and inclusionary work environment where employees who wish to voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation of gender identity feel comfortable doing so.”

White’s office released a statement from the Ward 8 LGBT Commission’s chair, Marvin ‘Rahim’ Briggs, saying the commission “regretfully accepts” Pannell’s resignation.

“The Commission will continue to focus on and address issues affecting Ward 8 LGBTQ,” Briggs says in the statement. “We’ll continue to organize to promote acceptance of LGBTQ community diversity and to foster respect and appreciation for each member of the community residing in Ward 8.”

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District of Columbia

Two gay candidates disqualified from D.C. primary ballot

Republican, Libertarian activists withdraw from races

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(Blade archive photo by Aram Vartian)

A member of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest LGBTQ local political group, mounted a successful challenge before the D.C. Board of Elections earlier this month that resulted in a gay Republican and a gay Libertarian Party activist withdrawing as candidates for public office in the city’s June 21 primary.

James Harnett, 24, a member of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee and a member of the staff of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), filed challenges to the candidacy of gay Libertarian Party activist Bruce Majors, who was running unopposed in the June 21 primary for the office of both D.C. Delegate to the U.S. House and chair of the Libertarian Party of D.C.

The Board of Elections upheld Harnett’s challenge claiming that Majors failed to obtain a sufficient number of valid petition signatures needed to be placed on the ballot for both offices, according to elections board spokesperson Nicholas Jacobs. Majors withdrew his candidacy for both offices rather than contest the challenge.

The Board of Elections also upheld a challenge filed by Harnett against the candidacy of gay Republican and D.C. Log Cabin Republicans organization member Andrew Desser, who was running unopposed in the primary for the position of Ward 1 Chairperson of the D.C. Republican Committee.

Desser told the Blade he acknowledged that he fell short in obtaining the needed number of valid petition signatures and would not contest the challenge.

Harnett, who appeared to be acting on his own behalf and not representing the Capital Stonewall Democrats in his challenges to Majors and Desser before the election board, did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Board of Elections records showed that he also successfully challenged six other candidates seeking ballot placement in the June 21 primary, one of whom, Lori Furstenberg, was running for mayor as a Republican and another, Corren Brown, was running for mayor as a Statehood-Green Party member.

The others Harnett mounted a successful challenge against were GOP candidates running for the Ward 2, Ward 4, and Ward 7 GOP Chairperson positions; and Leniqua ‘Dominique’ Jenkins, a Democrat running for the at-large D.C. Council seat, who was the only Democrat challenged by Harnett.

Harnett, a former ANC commissioner in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for the nonpartisan office of D.C. Board of Education for Ward 2. Among the candidates he ran against was gay education advocate Allister Chang, who won that race.

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