Atop his editorial in the Dec. 9 issue of the Washington Blade, editor Chris Crain declares, ”After years of enduring silly claims that gay equality would weaken traditional marriage and inevitably legalize incest, the D.C. Council is proving the crazies right!” He goes on to denounce the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), which has worked with Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and others to enhance the city’s domestic partnership law.
Legalize incest? Surely they would not do this, you say to yourself, and you are right. Crain misconstrues our DP law’s inclusion of unmarried blood relatives (such as a grandmother and mother living together raising children) among those eligible, which was added by then-Council Chair John Wilson to help such families obtain health care benefits.
D.C. law defines ”domestic partner” as ”a person with whom an individual shares a familial relationship characterized by mutual caring and the sharing of a mutual residence.” Both parties must be at least 18 years old and unmarried. There is nothing in the law, or in a new bill that received its initial vote in the D.C. Council on Dec. 6, that in any way promotes or condones incest.
Fifteen years ago, when GLAA organized a coalition to work with the D.C. Council to pass a domestic partnership law, a variety of folks joined the effort, from religious leaders to advocates for the elderly. Despite false claims by anti-gay ministers that the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992 (as the original bill was called) created the equivalent of marriage, it was largely a symbolic measure that afforded few real benefits. Nonetheless, for nine years after the bill became law, Congress used its constitutional authority to block the law’s implementation. Finally, in 2002, Congress ended the ban and D.C. finally established a Domestic Partner registry.
Because Congress will not let D.C. enact civil marriage rights for same-sex couples, GLAA has pursued a strategy of adding rights and responsibilities to the DP law. The current bill, the Domestic Partnership Equality Act of 2005, adds immunity from testimony; Power of Attorney; the equivalent of alimony and pre-marital agreements; standing to sue for negligence causing death; rights of surviving partners and children; and provisions for when a partner dies without a will. The bill enjoys unanimous Council support.
Enter Crain, who has been attacking GLAA’s incrementalist strategy for two years. He thinks we are spineless and timid for not pushing an equal marriage bill now, whereas we are just dealing with political reality and the district’s special constitutional relationship with Congress. (Alas, we don’t have the freedom that Massachusetts and California do.) Crain seems to regard the prospect of congressional wrath against the district as liberating. Now he has embraced the radical right’s lie that we are trying to undermine marriage.
In addition to being sensationalistic, Crain’s latest charge is false and untimely. The provision allowing blood relatives to be domestic partners has been law for 13 years, and has stirred no controversy in that time. Public hearings on the present bill were held last May. The incest charge is not just a red herring, it is bizarre and incendiary. Right-wing groups like the Family Research Council will now be able to trumpet a gay newspaper’s statement that the D.C. Council, at the behest of gay activists, has passed a bill encouraging incest. As if we did not already have enough on our plates, now we have to counter disinformation from the gay press.
If people are truly concerned about threats to heterosexual marriage, they should try re-criminalizing adultery and tightening the divorce laws (which are not about to happen). If they fear that non-marriage legal alternatives somehow threaten ”traditional” marriage (an institution which has been far more fluid than they portray it), then they should allow gay couples to marry — then we won’t have to seek alternative protections. In fact, however, the phoniness of the right’s loudly proclaimed defense of marriage was exposed when they tried to revoke the rights and responsibilities of the husband of one Terry Schiavo because they disagreed with his decisions.
With such defenders, marriage hardly needs enemies.
Contrary to Crain’s strange accusation that GLAA is both overcautious and reckless, we are pursuing a careful, informed strategy to win the most we can for our families during a time when they are under attack, even as we continue our educational efforts toward the goal of full equality. Crain’s attacks against GLAA have endangered both our short-term and long-term efforts by playing into the hands of our congressional opponents. Those opponents could repeal our domestic partners law, or impose a D.C. Defense of Marriage Act, at any time.
We in GLAA do not expect blind deference from Crain or anyone. We do feel that our long record of effective nonpartisan advocacy, and our public policy expertise on gay families (expertise routinely relied upon by Crain’s own reporters), deserve a measure of respect and not the scorn that he has shown us. As it happens, GLAA’s strategy for D.C. is supported by Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, who has been the nation’s leading advocate for marriage equality for the past decade.
When I privately accused Crain of being a tool of the anti-gay right, he took indignant exception. Very well, I will take him at his word that he was not attempting sabotage but was simply expressing honest concerns. Similarly, what my GLAA colleagues and I perceive as a long campaign of gratuitous attacks, insults and belittling comments against us may simply be vigorous criticism for Crain. That said, it is hardly reassuring if Crain does not realize how much acid he mixes with his ink, nor do his possible good intentions diminish the danger he has caused to the interests of same-sex families in the district.
While GLAA and our allies continue our advocacy for marriage equality, we are doing our best to win real protections — in the absence of that equality — for real families in the district. The fact that D.C.’s domestic partners law has never discriminated against non-gay families is no reason to attack it, much less to sow confusion and hysteria just as the latest enhancement heads for passage.
Richard Rosendall is Vice President for Political Affairs of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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