Historic Day in D.C.

District's new marriage-equality law takes effect with dozens of applicants, a pledge from Norton to protect it, and fodder from Phelps

At 6 a.m. this morning, March 3, Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend arrived at the Carl Moultrie Courthouse where, nearly three hours later, they would exit the front doors as the first same-sex couple to register for a marriage license in the District of Columbia since the new law granting marriage equality took effect.

By the time the processing began at 8:30 a.m., more than 60 couples had arrived on the fourth floor of the courthouse, where the applications for such licenses are submitted. It takes three business days for the District to process applications. These first-of-their-kind licenses are expected to be granted Tuesday, March 9.

Although Young and Townsend, a D.C. couple, were first, Townsend, taking in the day, said, ”It didn’t matter where we fell in line.”

Young added, ”We could have been 191. It wouldn’t have made a difference.”

The mood was captured across the faces of the couples, whether waiting in line upstairs in the courthouse or out front, where a mélange of cameras and reporters were eagerly awaiting sight of the newly applied-to-be-wed couples.

Aisha Mills, president of the Campaign for All D.C. Families, and Danielle Moodie were present in December at the City Council vote approving the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 and were ”lucky No. 11” today, as Moodie said.

”It’s surreal,” she added. ”To work for something, and then it comes — to come down here, it’s very exciting.”

Mills remarked on the group of couples waiting in line as she and Moodie awaited their turn to apply, saying, ”I’m just so touched by how many couples there are – how broad and diverse the community is.”

Waiting behind Moodie and Mills, Terrence Heath and Richard Imirowicz, a Maryland couple, talked about the recognition that the marriage-license application garnered from Terrence’s mother.

”I always wanted the same kind of commitment my parents had, and now I can.” Of his mother, Heath said, ”She gets it and wished us the best.”

Imirowicz also noted that last week’s opinion by Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler (D), which led to the state recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages, pushed the couple. ”We knew we wanted to get married,” he said, ”but when the attorney general announced that, we wanted to be here today.”

Although the work to reach this day started decades ago, couples were still caught off-guard by the moment. Abby Martin and Becky Rickert of Arlington described themselves as ”high school sweethearts” originally from Centerville, Ohio, although Rickert noted, ”Actually, we met in middle school. We didn’t like each other then.”

Today, however, the couple was waiting in line, No. 43, having decided only a day earlier that they would join this first group of applicants. Martin explained, ”I got antsy. She was nice enough to indulge me.”

Outside the courthouse, there were limits to the indulgence as some members of the notoriously anti-LGBT Phelps family joined the reporters and couples. Protesting the day with their ever-present ”God Hates Fags” signs, they were joined by a couple other protestors.

But, the scattered protests – or the cold, overcast morning – were not enough to stop the joy of the moment for the couples finally receiving this long-sought recognition of their relationships.

Bob Hall and Kenny Gingell were waiting in line, despite Gingell having just gotten off work. When asked by a reporter why they were there so early, Gingell laughed, ”Why are we here at this hour?”

Hall smiled back, answering, ”We’ve been together 28 years. It’s time for this to happen.”

The marriage applications only happened today after U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts denied a request from marriage-equality opponents that he halt the effective date of the marriage law while opponents could pursue a referendum effort.

He also noted – and as marriage equality advocates are aware – the opponents still have available to them their appeal regarding an initiative effort, which is currently at the D.C. Court of Appeals and is expected to be heard sometime in May.

The only other concern still facing marriage-equality advocates in D.C. is whether Congress, which took no action to disapprove of the law during its 30-day review period for District legislation, will take action restricting the use of District funds to pay for the new law.

These actions – called ”riders” – to the D.C. budget, which must be approved by Congress, have been eliminated from this year’s appropriation. But, District Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) spoke more cautiously on Tuesday, March 2, when asked by Metro Weekly about the chances of a marriage rider being attached to this year’s budget.

”I believe that I found a way to keep this from coming up in the House appropriations process,” she said, ”but … I’m not sure about the Senate because they have no rules. Someone can offer an amendment on the Senate floor.”

That said, she added, ”I’m willing to hold up our appropriation to do whatever I need to do to get it off.”

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