LGBT Rights in 2009: The Battle in DC

Originally posted by me in the GW Discourse blog.

God’s war has just started. Shame on them. We’re going to get to the ballot box through either the courts or the Congress. So tell everyone: Don’t let the marriage licenses start flowing.” – Bob King, community activist against same-sex marriage in DC, as quoted in the Washington Post.

After a year of debate in the DC City Council, Mayor Fenty signed DC’s same-sex marriage bill on December 18, 2009. The bill needs to pass a 30-day Congressional review period before becoming law, but despite strong opposition from the religious community, the bill is expected to survive the review period and legalize same-sex marriage in DC in the coming months.

The biggest threat to this bill originally came from the Catholic Church. The Archdiocese of Washington announced on November 11 that they would refuse to continue their social service programs in the District if this bill passed. Although DC’s marriage bill does not require religious organizations to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, it would require religious groups to follow DC’s anti-discrimination laws. In a highly controversial move, the Archdiocese argued that they would rather pull Catholic Charities from DC than pay employee benefits to same-sex spouses.

A month later, the Church seemed less willing to take such an extreme position. Recently, the Archdiocese’s officials have announced that they will be continuing their social service contracts in the nation’s capital. It is unclear in what capacity Catholic Charities will remain in the District, and whether they intend to abide by anti-discrimination laws. Some claim this announcement is merely a political maneuver, and that the Church will keep charities in DC in order to ignore anti-discrimination laws and be challenged by the DC City Council. This way, removal of Catholic Charities will be blamed on the government instead of on the church.

The other major concern is whether this bill could survive a ballot initiative. Opponents of the bill have sued the city in order to get a ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot, but city lawyers and officials are urging judges to throw out this case. According to the Washington Post, lawyers in the District believe a ballot initiative would be illegal, violating DC’s Human Rights Act by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Proponents of same-sex marriage are fearful of this bill reaching the ballot, since attempts to pass marriage via ballot initiative have failed 31 out of 31 times. Whether or not this debate ends up on the ballot, religious groups in Washington will certainly continue their standoff against the government in order to prevent same-sex marriage.

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