This week, the D.C. City Council voted 11-2 to legalize marriages between same-sex couples. This is a milestone for the LGBT movement for a number of important reasons. First, the overwhelming vote proves we can win legislatively. Second, D.C. will be the first majority-minority jurisdiction to legalize marriage. And, third, D.C. will be the first place below the Mason-Dixon Line to end discrimination against same-sex couples and their families.
This achievement is the result of years of work by a range of committed organizations and individual activists who in a careful and methodical fashion created and implemented a comprehensive strategy that has us at the brink of marriage equality.
Groups like the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which helped to elect supportive candidates to the Council; Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, which worked with members of the Council on policy; and DC for Marriage, which engaged thousands of D.C. residents in conversations about why marriage matters in all parts of the city, have played a crucial role in getting us to this moment. A special note of thanks should go to Bob Summersgill, the brilliant and tireless activist who masterminded the strategy to gain legal recognition for our relationships and our families.
Among the most important work done to win marriage equality has been the intense focus on building support in the African-American community and communities of faith. Some people would have us believe black people are categorically against LGBT equality. Our community outreach efforts and the support we have found in Wards 4, 7 and 8 and among the African-American members of the Council have proven that to be false. In a city that is nearly 60 percent African-American and that includes large Asian-American and Latino populations, we have successfully passed a marriage bill.
A key reason for that is black people weren’t just integrated into the marriage campaign — in many respects, we have led and continue to lead the campaign.
We have also been blessed with a strong, vibrant and committed group of pro-marriage-equality clergy. D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, a coalition of 200 faith leaders from a variety of faith traditions, has played a crucial role in making the moral case for allowing same-sex couples to marry. Without them, we would not be at this point.
While we celebrate this week, it’s important to be prepared for our next task: to defend our freedom to marry.
The marriage bill is headed to Capitol Hill where members of Congress will have 30 legislative days to review the bill. Because Congress has oversight over bills passed by the Council, they can take a number of actions that undermine D.C.’s home rule and restrict marriage equality. Anti-gay activists from outside of the District, such as Bishop Harry Jackson, and Brian Brown and Maggie Gallagher from the National Organization for Marriage, are reveling in the temporary setbacks to marriage in Maine and New York and have launched a national campaign urging Congress to intervene to ban marriage equality outright.
In addition, Maryland-based Bishop Jackson is suing the Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) to force a Proposition 8-style ballot fight to ban marriage. The BOEE, citing the D.C. Human Rights Act, ruled that a public vote on marriage equality was not a proper subject for a ballot initiative.
We can expect in the months to come that these anti-equality forces will unleash a wave of attacks against LGBT people and our families in a scorched earth strategy to divide our city. We must be ready to defend ourselves. The Campaign For All D.C. Families, representing a broad range of LGBT and allied organizations, is preparing to do just that.
Today, let’s celebrate our victory. Tomorrow, we will continue our work of engaging friends, families, neighbors and co-workers about the reality of our families and why marriage equality matters.
Michael Crawford is co-chair of DC for Marriage, a project of The Center, D.C.’s LGBT community center, and managing editor of Bilerico-D.C. (dc.bilerico.com). He can be reached at .