June 24, 2013 at 11:52 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. marriage officiant, surrogacy bills advance
Muriel Bowser, Ward 4, Washington D.C., D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council Member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) has expressed concern with a provision in the temporary officiant bill that would allow couples to act as their own officiant. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBT activists watched with interest last week as the D.C. City Council took steps to advance one bill that would allow more people to perform marriage ceremonies and another that would repeal a little-known city law that prohibits surrogacy parenting.

On Tuesday, June 18, the Council’s Committee of the Whole, which includes all Council members, voted to schedule a first-reading vote on June 26 for the Marriage Officiant Amendment Act of 2013.

The bill, among other things, would authorize same-sex and opposite-sex couples applying for a marriage license to designate a friend, parent, sibling or any other adult as a one-time “temporary officiant” empowered to perform the marriage. The current law limits the selection of the person who can perform a marriage ceremony to licensed clergy members, judges and court employees designated as officiants.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) wrote the bill and co-introduced it with five colleagues, including gay Council members David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).

In an unexpected development, Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who is a candidate for mayor, exercised her authority to take the bill off the Council’s consent calendar, which would have enabled the Council to approve the bill on June 26 by unanimous consent without a roll call vote.

Bowser expressed concern about a provision in the bill that would allow couples that obtain a marriage license to act as their own officiant and to perform the marriage ceremony themselves. Bowser’s action prompted Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance President Rick Rosendall and National Capital Area ACLU Legal Director Arthur Spitzer to send email messages to each Council member expressing support for the “self-officiation” provision. The two urged the Council to retain the provision and to oppose a possible amendment introduced by Bowser to take the provision out of the bill.

Bowser told the Blade she supports the bill and expects to vote for it. But she said she took the bill off the consent agenda to enable her to ask some questions about the self-officiation provision.

“That one provision, as you know, was not in the introduced version of the bill,” she said. “And it is a departure from our witnessed and officiated ceremony for marriage in the District. And it’s a very new concept and I wanted to make sure it works…and that it gives due weight to entering into a marriage.”

Bowser said as of early this week she doesn’t plan to introduce an amendment on the Council floor to delete the provision. “Personally I favor that,” she said, referring to marriages performed by a third party officiant. “But I’m willing to listen to what people want.”

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who supports the bill, has suggested adding members of the City Council to the list of people authorized to perform a marriage ceremony. Rosendall and Spitzer said they have no objections to Barry’s suggestion.

In a separate action, the Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee held a public hearing on June 20 on a revised version of the Surrogacy Parenting Agreement Act of 2013, which was introduced earlier this year by Catania. All 12 of Catania’s fellow Council members signed on as co-sponsors of the original bill.

The measure, renamed the Collaborative Reproduction Act of 2013, would make it legal for same-sex or opposite-sex couples — or a single intended parent — to arrange for a woman to carry a fertilized egg to term on behalf of the couple or single person. The revised bill includes language that would make the intended couple or single person the legal parents of the child. Current D.C. law prohibits surrogacy arrangements.

The 15-page draft bill discussed at the hearing includes detailed legal provisions that would help potential surrogates and couples seeking a child work out a complex arrangement to compensate the surrogate for direct and indirect costs associated with a pregnancy and the delivery of a baby in a hospital.

Gay rights attorney Nancy Polikoff, an American University law professor, called on the committee to change the bill to include in all its provisions regulations for both a “gestational” and “traditional” surrogacy. Polikoff noted that the revised bill is mostly limited to addressing gestational surrogacy.

Gestational surrogacy allows the prospective parent or parents to provide a fertilized egg to be implanted in the surrogate. The process for doing this, Polikoff said, involves a medical procedure that could cost more than $100,000, making it difficult or impossible for many prospective parents to afford.

Traditional surrogacy involves the insemination of semen from one of the members of the couple or single person into the surrogate, in which case the surrogate becomes the biological mother of the child.

Polikoff said the draft bill would legalize traditional surrogacy but it lacks the detailed procedural language in the form of a regulation that it includes for gestational surrogacy, which she said is needed to help the “traditional” surrogate and prospective parents work out a legal agreement.

“With no such regulation in place, every time a gay male couple wants to conceive and raise a child, and that couple cannot afford gestational surrogacy, they are on their own, as is the woman who agrees to help them become parents,” Polikoff said in her testimony. “I don’t think the City Council should leave to their own devices that portion of this city’s population.”

Polikoff also called for a new provision in the bill to give a surrogate a short period of time after giving birth to back out of the deal and become the legal parent of and gain custody of the child.

Phillip L. Husband, general counsel for the D.C. Department of Health, who testified on behalf of the administration of Mayor Vincent Gray, said the administration supports the legislation but offered more than two-dozen suggested changes in the bill’s wording that he said would strengthen the measure and improve the city’s ability to implement it.

The Judiciary and Public Safety Committee must next draft a final version of the bill before the measure goes to the full Council for a vote.

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

  • It doesn't make sense to me that LGBT activists would support this sort of legislation regarding the designation of who can officate at a wedding. One of the premises of pursuing same-sex marriage rights is that marriage is primarily a social and public — not private/personal — institution. Gay people want to be married so that our relationships are recognized by society at large. This legislation would take marriage law in the opposite direction, making it more of a private reality that can be made official by almost anyone and robbing it of part of its social/publc character.

  • agreed. The entire notion of solemnizing a marriage is to force the participants to acknowledge that what they are about to undertake is serious and of consequence. It’s one thing to get a marriage license by filling out a form, but it’s entirely a different thing to stand before a figure imbued with the authority of the state (and hopefully friends and family) and make a lifelong promise to another person.

  • Self-officiating makes not sense. The role of the officiant is to be an official witness on behalf of society to the marriage, for filing the license as executed. I hope this clause is deleted.

  • To the commenters criticizing the self-officiating provision: Excuse me, but we are talking about the civil law. The officiant is a ceremonial function and should be up to the participants. The present bill simply expands a couple's options for their ceremony. The registration requirements are not affected at all. There is hardly a social or public character to having a court clerk perform the ceremony, which is one of the options already. Please be eager to control the details of your own ceremony, not that of others.


  • **In an unexpected development, Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), who is a candidate for mayor, exercised her authority to take the bill off the Council’s consent calendar, which would have enabled the Council to approve the bill on June 26 by unanimous consent without a roll call vote.**
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    Now that IS a disappointment, coming from CM Bowser. If elected mayor, will she consult with Christopher Dyer any more than Adrian Fenty did? Like zippo! Can we expect more bigoted police leadership?

    Could this inexplicable blocking of the bill by Bowser be a political favor to anti-gay, bigoted-ops master Bob King and his anti-marriage equality allies? See related Blade article …

    Many thanks to ACLU’s Spitzer and GLAA’s Rosendall for promptly registering their common-sense opposition to CM Bowser’s stance of putting unnecessary impediments in the way LGBT peoples’ civil marriage rights.

  • From the sidelines looking in.

    Point of information. When civil unions became legal in DC, very few couples registered – much to everyone’s surprise. Same with Same Sex Marriage (SSM). Now another marriage dispute by the unmarried. ………………

  • Ok Rick…i disagree with you…self officiating is just stupid and wrong. Someone other than the party’s to the marriage and the witness should be over seeing this martial function.

    Brian…Please Bob King? Bob King could care less about same sex marriage. He was hired by NOW to take that political battle on. I know bob and he could care less. It’s been decided and Bob in no way would even advise Muriel on this so you are out in left field on this one!

    • **so you are out in left field on this one!**
      * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
      Well that’s an interesting metaphor given the subject…
      Hangin’ with Bob, eh?
      I find more interesting peeps in *left field*. Don’t you?
      Two days shy of 44, may we all have a spectacularly happy day, Barrie!

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