Friday, July 25, 2008


The District of Columbia is a gay-friendly place. Our first anti-discrimination ordinance was passed in 1973. In 1976, we passed legislation banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in child custody cases. The first second-parent adoption was granted in 1991, and our highest court approved the practice in 1995.

We have had domestic partnership here in DC since 1992, although Congress (which controls DC laws...don't get me started on that!) blocked the city from spending any money to implement the law. That ban was finally lifted in 2002. The DC law allows any two people living together in a committed, familial relationship to register; in other words, it is not limited to same-sex couples.

At first few legal consequences attached to registration. Additional legal consequences have been added several times since 2002. Some of the most significant came last year, including the rights of inheritance and division of assets when the relationship ends. Effective this coming fall, registered domestic partners will have almost all of the legal consequences that attach to marriage.

The last major area that needs law reform here concerns the status of couples having children together. So it's logical that we pass legislation that will give DC what California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, and Vermont already have -- a presumption that a child born to one domestic partner is the child of the other.

DC is also one of a minority of states with no statute on donor insemination. Many of those statutes are old and apply only to married (heterosexual) couples, but the modern statutes apply to all women. The best framework does two things: it says that when two people (married/registered or not) decide to have a child using donor insemination and both intend to raise the child as their own, then they are both the parents of the child; and it says that a semen donor is not a parent unless there is a written agreement to the contrary.

Legislation recently introduced in the DC City Council accomplishes these goals. So imagine the shock of the legislation's supporters when the DC Office of the Attorney General sent a letter -- but no witness -- to the July 11 hearing on the bill. The letter reflected complete ignorance about families headed by same-sex couples, about reproduction using assisted conception, and about the laws in other states. The OAG didn't know that the Social Security Administration recognizes a parent-child relationship between a child and her nonbiological mother who was in a Vermont civil union with the biological mother when the child was born, even though the Washington Post had an editorial about the case days before the letter was written!

The letter was offensive on so many levels, it's truly hard to comprehend. Because no witness showed up to defend the letter, Committee Chair Phil Mendelson couldn't question anyone from the city, and those of us supporting the bill (Michele Zavos, Bob Summersgill, Rick Rosendall on behalf of Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA), and myself) were left in disbelief and outrage.

Did I mention that DC is a gay-friendly place? We expect our elected officials and their staff -- including the city's lawyers -- to understand who we are and strive to provide our families the strongest legal protection possible. So I spent most of the last two weeks writing a detailed response to their letter. After I sent it to the OAG I received a voice mail message from the letter's author saying they would review what I wrote and "act accordingly."

Stay tuned for an update.

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