D.C. begins licensing same-sex marriages
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON – Just sitting down at a desk at the marriage bureau at D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday was too much for Angelisa Young. She cried so hard that she eventually had to bury her face in her fiancee’s chest.
About a half-hour later, Young and her partner, Sinjoyla Townsend, who met 13 years ago in a constitutional law class at the University of the District of Columbia, became the first same-sex couple to apply to be married in the District as the city officially joined five other states in allowing gay marriage.
“I’m just so happy. We’re whole now. We will actually be a true family like everyone else,” Young, 47, said as Townsend, 41, used her thumb to wipe away her soon-to-be wife’s tears. After the couple rose from the desk, couples in line behind them broke into spontaneous applause and cheers.
For Young, Townsend and the cheering masses, being there, in the tiny and usually sleepy marriage bureau, on the very first day meant everything. There was the history of it all, but mostly it was about having the nation’s capital validate their relationships and their families.
For the couples in line Wednesday and those that will follow, it was the culmination of a three-decade struggle for equality. Advocates had long known that the D.C. Council would approve same-sex marriage. But the timing had to be right. Congress and the White House could have killed the bill, which had to clear a congressional review period, so advocates waited for a president and legislature sympathetic to gay rights and home rule. In the meantime, the gay community picked up important rights in the District, including a domestic partnership law, before the council passed the same-sex marriage bill in December.
Still, there were no white wedding dresses or tuxedos among the gay couples on Wednesday because they won’t be able to marry until Tuesday, at the earliest. Gay or straight, the District requires a waiting period from the day you get your license.
The line to get into the marriage bureau was composed of racially diverse couples of all generations and appeared to include more women than men. By the end of the day, 151 couples had filed to be married, far surpassing the dozen or so applications the bureau typically collects on a single day. Some brought their children or spoke of the importance of their change in status to their sons and daughters.
“It’s a great source of pride for her and deep down, a source of relief and stability,” said Silver Spring resident Deborah Weiner, referring to her 15-year-old daughter. Weiner stood in line with her partner of 24 years, Janne Harrelson.
Many of the couples were registered as domestic partners and covered by a partner’s health insurance policy. But marriage status should give them all of the rights and responsibilities afforded under state law, as long as they live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.
Court officials had called in extra security officers to monitor the halls for protesters, but the officers far outnumbered the protesters. And the celebration largely overshadowed the presence of four people from a church in Kansas who gathered outside the courthouse, chanting and carrying protest signs, one of which read “Mourn for your sins.”
Absent from the event was Bishop Harry Jackson, one of the leading opponents of the law. Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., has tried unsuccessfully to block the measure by seeking a public vote on same-sex marriage.
Jackson said he would continue to press his case in court in an effort to “let the people vote.”
The D.C. Council approved same-sex marriage on an 11 to 2 vote Dec. 15, and Mayor Adrian Fenty, D, signed the bill into law soon after, saying that he hoped the District would provide a road map for gay rights activists in other states, including possibly Maryland. Last week, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, D, said the state would begin recognizing same-sex marriages from other places.
But even as couples planned their marriages, there was some concern the celebrations could be cut short by Congress or the courts. Members of Congress could try to block the District from implementing the law through the appropriations process, and the D.C. Court of Appeals has not yet ruled on Jackson’s efforts.
“Who knows how long this will last?” said Sharra Greer, 37, as she waited in line with her partner of 10 years, Darcy Kemnitz, 46. “As long as Democrats are in the majority, we’re hoping they can hold the line.”