D.C. Marriage: A Political Achievement

As the first couples to enjoy legal marriage in the nation's capital celebrate their unions, some see a blueprint in the District's success

The Campaign for All D.C. Families hosted three of the first legally recognized same-sex marriages in the District on Tuesday, March 9, but the reason for the success of the marriage equality effort here was present in the faces of the attendees – and on the tongues of the many politicians and political strategists at the event.

Michael Crawford, the newly hired director of new media at the New-York-based Freedom to Marry and the head of D.C. for Marriage during the District’s successful effort, noted, “D.C. will be the first majority-minority jurisdiction where we have marriage equality, and I think that bodes well for our efforts to win marriage nationwide.”

Looking at the Campaign’s highlighted first weddings – three black couples – and the “majority-minority” assembled guests, the strong effort made in D.C. to ensure that all of Washington – and not the stereotype of the gay community as a white monolith – was represented was clear.

Rick Rosendall, a longtime LGBT equality advocate in the District who currently serves as the vice president for political affairs of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, noted that effort.

“A lot of people in D.C. built a broad-based coalition effort, not only to win this . . . but to keep it, to preserve it,” he said. “All jurisdictions are different, but not so different that there aren’t lessons to be learned from our victory.”

The lessons for others meant celebration for those in the District, as marriage licenses became available for those couples that applied on March 3, the first day the District government accepted applications for same-sex couples.

As Aisha Mills, president of the board of Campaign for All D.C. Families, said, “This is just exciting. It’s exciting for all the residents of the District of Columbia.

“Everyone should be proud of the hard work of making this happen…and making sure that the city really did come to a place where we acknowledge all of our families as equal.”

Crawford talked a bit about that, saying, “You know, we did it. It took a lot of hard work – a lot of conversations with people. Residents of the District were incredibly supportive. … We’ve done it in the nation’s capital, and now we need to do the work to win nationwide.”

The first effort on the “nationwide” part came from the District’s neighbor to the north, Maryland, where the state’s attorney general, Douglas Gansler, issued an opinion in the days leading up to marriage equality in D.C. that is bringing recognition to same-sex marriages entered outside of the state.

As Rosendall said, “Our action gave Maryland a shot in the arm – as I think it has to efforts around the country. We got a win here in the nation’s capital and that’s a big boost to the cause.”

The timing of the move – on the heels of disappointments in Maine, New York and New Jersey in recent months – led to expressions of hope, not only from advocates like Rosendall and Crawford, but from District politicians in attendance at the Tuesday wedding event.

Openly gay Councilman Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said, “I never imagined this would be possible, in my lifetime in the District of Columbia. So to see this today, to be part of this today, to have been able to cast a vote for this today, is extraordinary.

“Of all the uplifting and moving experiences I’ve had in my life, none are greater than this today. … This is such a culmination of such a long effort over many years. But to end this way in this beautiful celebration of love, what could be better.”

Mayor Adrian Fenty (D), who was to give a toast at the Campaign’s wedding reception, spoke following the ceremonies of the District and its hopeful greater impact.

“I think this is not only a great step forward for all six of you – certainly the most important thing right now – it’s also a great step forward for equality in general, for our great city . . . and for our great country,” Fenty said.

“This represents what this entire country is about,” he went on. “Everyone having the same opportunity for the same access and treated equally, no matter what their sexual preference or their race or anything.”

The mayor singled out Councilman David Catania (I-At Large) for his efforts, before introducing the member of D.C. City Council who sponsored the bill whose impact was being celebrated on Tuesday.

“This is one of the most profoundly rewarding experiences I’ve ever had the privilege of being a part of,” Catania noted. “I have to tell you, each ceremony was moving in its own way. Councilman Graham says we all cry at weddings, and that was especially true today.”

The ceremonies took place at the Equality Forum, a community space on the first floor of the Human Rights Campaign’s building in Washington, D.C. Of today’s spirit, HRC’s vice president of programs, David Smith, said of his organization’s role in helping to host the weddings and receptions, “We are very proud to be a part of this extraordinary day.”

“When the Campaign for All D.C. Families asked if they could have the event here,” Smith remarked before the ceremonies, “we said, ‘Sure, we’re delighted to.’”

The Campaign’s Mills, along with her partner, Danielle Moodie, applied on that first day for their wedding license, but – showing the normalcy with which they are approaching this change – will not be wed until August.

“We’ve been engaged since June, and will be getting married in August,” Mills said. “We’ll be legally married in D.C., but we’re also going to have a ceremony in Long Island, New York, which is Danielle’s childhood home and all of her family is there.”

New York, which does not permit same-sex couples to wed, does recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages for several purposes.

If Crawford has his way, though, New York – as his new home and one of the “45 states remaining” without marriage equality – can consider its days without ceremonies like the ones recognized by the District on Tuesday to be numbered.