Monday, November 2, 2009

Voting on marriage equality in DC

The hearing on marriage equality in DC continues today before the City Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. Last week there were theatrics by those opposing marriage equality, but there was also a common theme. They want the people to vote. That theme continues today.

Under DC law, however, human rights matters are not subject to popular vote. So opponents asked for an “advisory referendum,” even though it would not be binding. Last week that gave Council Member David Catania the opportunity to note that the only time such an advisory referendum has been held in the District of Columbia was on December 21, 1865, and the subject was giving freed slaves the right to vote. According to Council Member Catania, the vote was 721-1 in Georgetown and 6591-35 in the rest of the city – and that would be against extending the vote to freed slaves.

I don’t expect a vote on marriage equality in DC to be anywhere near that one-sided in either direction, but the point is well-taken. The exclusion of matters governed by the DC Human Rights Act from popular vote was a wise decision made at the first opportunity for “home rule” afforded the District of Columbia. We have protected gay people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation in DC since 1973. Let’s think…what would a referendum on that have looked like?

Then there is Rick Rosendall's excellent post on the subject on the blog of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance. All the members of the current City Council who suppport same-sex marriage were on record before their last election, and yet they were elected. As Councilmember Mendelson pointed out today, seven members of the Council are up for reelection next year (including him). Opponents of marriage equality are free to work against members who vote for it.

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