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Book of Matthew: One step closer

Published: December 30, 2009
Section: Opinions


While there are many important things to talk about this month—sluggish economic growth, the Senate healthcare bill and the climate change summit in Copenhagen, to name a few—there is one particular headline that ought to be discussed before it ends up buried under an avalanche of larger news stories. Another part of the country has just put us one step closer to nationwide marriage equality.

After months of debate, two heated council hearings and strong opposition from the financially powerful Catholic Church, Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) signed a bill on Dec. 18 legalizing same-sex marriage in the District. His signature came only four days after the City Council approved the measure in an 11-2 vote.

The signing ceremony was held at the All Souls Unitarian Church in D.C.—known for its acceptance of same-sex couples and support for the marriage bill. Before picking up his pen, Mayor Fenty told the crowd of 150 filling the sanctuary that “an era of struggle ends for thousands in Washington D.C.” The bill’s sponsor, Independent City Council member David Catania, said, “I feel as if we’ve opened the door for equality, and we’ve simply allowed the rest of our residents to walk through and to come home…as full equal participants in the community that we love.” Another councilor, Democrat Jim Graham, one of the District’s two openly-gay legislators, said simply, “Thank God for this day … Thank God that I was able to live to see this day.”

The crowd of same-sex couples and their activist allies erupted when Fenty finally signed the bill and held it up for all to see. One group gathered in a balcony and hung a large bright yellow banner that had a heart and “Love” written on it. They surrounded it proudly, holding their own signs high in the air.

But despite this celebration, it should be noted that the die is not yet cast. D.C. laws are different from state laws: Congress must approve them before they can go into effect; otherwise they are little more than pieces of paper with official-looking writing on them. Congress has thirty days to make this decision. If they choose to uphold the law, same-sex couples could exchange marriage vows in the district as early as the beginning of 2010.

Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz from Utah has already vowed to fight the law, and is currently drafting legislation for its repeal that he plans to introduce in January. Chaffetz claims that Washington’s government acted against the will of its constituents. “If it were put up for a vote, traditional marriage would win,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It would win with a congressional vote, and it would win with the residents of Washington, D.C.”

However, even Chaffetz acknowledged to The Tribune that, “it’s going to be exceptionally difficult because Democrats have us outnumbered by large amounts.” He is probably correct. Although some activists will argue that Democrats have not made much progress on gay rights issues since last year’s elections (the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are still very much intact), it’s hard to imagine them using their majorities in both houses to block this law.

They would be wise to leave it alone. The legalization of same-sex marriage not only advances civil rights, but will also benefit the District’s economy, according to a recent study by the Williams Institute at UCLA. By taking into account the District’s tourism data and the experiences of states that currently allow same-sex marriage, the study estimated that almost 1,900 resident same-sex couples and almost 13,000 non-resident couples will come to the District to marry within three years. The resulting increase in economic activity—especially the influx in tourism—is expected to amount to over $52.2 million in direct spending. This will generate $5.4 million in tax revenue and create approximately 700 badly needed jobs.

It’s rare for laws to be win-win, but I’d say that this is one of those times. Let’s hope Congress realizes that.