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Attacking the Freedom to Marry in D.C.

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
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January 27, 2011

In a story first reported in The Hill on Tuesday, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Chairman of the conservative 175-member House Republican Study Committee (RSC), said that the RSC planned to push for a vote in the current Congress to ban gay and lesbian couples from being able to marry in the District of Columbia, rolling back the clock on equality, liberty, and democratic decisionmaking in our nation’s capital.

Currently, gay and lesbian couples can marry in just five states, as well as D.C. Congress of course has no ability to prohibit the freedom to marry in Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire or Iowa (or any other state for that matter); however, members of Congress have, from time to time, chosen to trounce democracy in D.C., as well as the will of the voters, to impose their own narrow ideological views on the District and its residents, all while denying D.C. an actual voice in Congress. D.C. residents and their elected officials should have the same right to debate and decide for themselves the same policy questions that each of the 50 states debate and decide for themselves. This is hardly a radical notion or something only embraced by those on the political left. Indeed, the principle of self-determination goes to the very heart of what a democratic republic is.

It is important to note that D.C.’s inclusive marriage law was approved in 2009 by a nearly unanimous District Council vote and was enthusiastically signed into law by the then-mayor Adrian Fenty and is also strongly supported by the new mayor, Vincent Gray. Multiple challenges to it have all been rejected by the courts, including most recently by the U.S. Supreme Court. Thousands of same-sex couples have been married in ceremonies that have taken place across the city and have been greeted with a joyous enthusiasm by family and friends alike. In fact, as Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post pointed out, since same-sex couples gained the right to marry in D.C., they have accounted for a majority of couples tying the knot in the District.

Members of Congress should leave District lawmaking up to D.C.’s elected leaders. Our country faces many daunting challenges and has pressing needs. Stripping away rights from D.C.’s gay and lesbian couples, who face many of the same challenges and hold similar dreams and aspirations as millions of couples across the country, should not appear anywhere on Congress’ very long to-do list.

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