In gay-marriage battle, D.C. shapes up as next big prize
As of Tuesday, Washington gives same-sex spouses the same rights as heterosexual couples. A full legalization of gay marriage could follow, some say.
Washington began recognizing gay marriages performed in other states Tuesday ‚Äď a move that is being called a potential first step toward allowing same-sex couples to wed in the nation‚Äôs capital.
Moreover, Washington would be a unique prize in the battle over gay marriage. Not only does it bring the issue to where the nation‚Äôs lawmakers live ‚Äď making it part of the city's culture ‚Äď but it also marks gay marriage‚Äôs first foray into a predominately black community.
Washington‚Äôs city council passed the law to give married same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples by a 12-to-1 margin in May ‚Äď a vote that supporters hail as significant.
‚ÄúNationally, anti-gay rights activists have had a great deal of success in encouraging black voters to oppose gay rights, partially because [gay rights] are seen ‚Äď incorrectly ‚Äď as a ‚Äėwhite issue,‚Äô‚ÄĚ writes Adam Serwer on the website of American Prospect, a liberal magazine.
‚ÄúBut in Washington, D.C., the diverse composition of the marriage-equality movement means that marriage-equality activists don't have to ‚Äėreach out‚Äô to the black community, because they're already part of it," he adds.
But black leaders have said that the 12-to-1 vote is not reflective of the community at large. In a city where 56 percent of residents are African-American, there is little chance a gay-marriage law would be approved if put to voters, says Derek McCoy, a pastor at Hope Christian Church in suburban Washington.
He says the law is yet another example of a legislative branch ‚Äúpulling a fast one on the constituents.‚ÄĚ
A group of black ministers filed a lawsuit in an effort to stall the bill until a referendum could put the question to Washington voters. A judge dismissed the suit.
Black ministers have led much of the opposition to the law, rallying the city‚Äôs black churches as well as the broader African-American community. Surveys have shown that a majority of blacks oppose gay marriage. Some 70 percent of blacks in California voted in favor of Proposition 8, the ballot measure that bans same-sex marriages.
Mr. McCoy says he is ‚Äúcontinuing to push a battle on the issue.‚ÄĚ But he agrees with proponents of same-sex marriage on at least one thing: ‚ÄúI do believe [recognizing gay marriage in Washington] puts it on a national scale, and at least brings that level of attention to it.‚ÄĚ
For gay-marriage advocates, that presents them with an ideal stage to show the country ‚Äď and especially lawmakers from around the nation ‚Äď that legalizing gay marriage is no threat to traditional marriage values. The ultimate goal: revise or overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of gay marriages.
For those opposed to legalizing same-sex marriage, the capital is an equally vital piece to stop the spread of gay marriage and prevent it from becoming a federal issue.
‚ÄúWashington, D.C., is symbolically a really important place for a marriage-equality win,‚ÄĚ says Molly McKay of Marriage Equality USA, a leading same-sex marriage advocacy group. "I think that it is really important that that happens around the social environment where are elected officials are located."
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