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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Washington, DC

Court injunction failed. Marriage licenses sold.
Bill fails in Senate. Bid for referendum rejected.

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Third attempt to stop SSMs in DC: Request for a U.S. Supreme Court injunction:

In the absence of Congressional efforts to overturn the city law, lawyers at the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) -- a fundamentalist Christian legal defense agency -- attempted to block SSM in Washington DC via the courts. On 2010-MAR-01, they filed a request for an injunction with the U.S. Supreme Court. They asked that the court order a delay in implementing the law until D.C. voters have the opportunity to hold a referendum to deprive loving, committed same-sex couples of their right to marry. Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel of the ADF said:

"The people have a right to have the final say on any law regarding marriage passed by the D.C. Council. The D.C. Charter makes that right clear, and officials should not be ignoring the right of the people to vote for or against the new definition of marriage fabricated by the council."

Nimocks is incorrect in his claim that the DC City Council created marriage equality. The goverment of the Netherlands' did this in the year 2000. Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to sell marriage licenses to same-sex couples in mid 2004. The Washington DC Council was merely following a number of other states in the U.S., allong with all ten provinces and three territories in Canada.

Apparently, the U.S. Supreme Court disagrees with Nimocks' beliefs. The Court denied the ADF's request on MAR-02. 1 According to All Headline News:

"Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. rejected a last-minute appeal by a coalition of religious groups for a temporary injunction against the marriages. He said gay marriage is a local issue that should be resolved by the local courts. "I conclude that a stay is not warranted," Roberts wrote in the three-page opinion in the case of Jackson v. District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics. "It has been the practice of the court to defer to the decisions of the courts of the District of Columbia on matters of exclusively local concerns."

Congress could have blocked the law, "... but Congress has chosen not to act," Roberts wrote. 5

The request for an injunction failed.

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SSM comes to Washington:

According to the Family Research Council (FRC):

"Although there is a legitimate dispute over when the city's bill takes effect, the D.C. Superior Court is moving ahead with its grand opening for 'marriage' applications on Wednesday [2010-MAR-03]. Officials there expect a 'flood of same-sex couples' at the courthouse ... when they offer homosexual licenses for the first time. To accommodate the shift, the office refused to wait for Congress and instead went ahead with overhauling the court applications. Every reference to 'bride and groom' has been scrubbed in favor of gender-neutral terms like "spouse." 2

Concerning the FRC report:

  • The FRC has a policy of enclosing the word marriage in quotation marks or of using the phrase "counterfeit marriage" in order to denegrate same-sex marriage.

  • A casual reading of the FRC report might lead some readers to assume that the city officials are jumping the gun by acting to implement SSM in Washington before Congress has an opportunity to approve the city law. Actually, Congress does not have to approve the law. If they do nothing, then the law comes into effect when the 30 day interval ends. Only by vetoing the law could Congress have any impact on the law's implementation.

In a report on 2010-MAR-03, CitizenLink reported that "... same-sex couples can get married in the District of Columbia beginning Wednesday [MAR-03]." 1 This appears to be incorrect. Same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses, but they then have to wait for a few days before they can be actually married.

According to the Washington Post, Room 4485 in the city marriage office is expected to be very busy:

"We're anticipating a lot of excited residents from the District and suburbs coming down to the court to apply, and we want to make this as smooth an experience as possible," said Lee F. Satterfield, the court's chief judge. To expedite the process, Satterfield said, couples should bring, in addition to their 'patience,' completed applications, which can be downloaded from the court's Web site. Couples should also have $35 for their application and $10 for the license (cash or money order). The application fee is waived for couples who are registered in the District as domestic partners. Those couples should bring their proof of registration and the $10 license fee."

"Satterfield said he expects the marriage bureau to receive far more than the usual 10 marriage applications completed each day. The office has hired temporary employees to help staff the bureau. Satterfield has also arranged to bring in additional workers from other areas in the courthouse if needed. 'We want this court to serve the community and be in a position to add to the joy and excitement we expect to see in the couples who come to the court,' he said."

"The court has also had to redo its traditional applications and brochures. Gone is the language that asked for the name of 'bride' and 'groom.' Instead, the applications ask for the name of the 'spouse'."

"It takes three business days for the applications to be processed, so the soonest the couples will be able to wed is March 9. Court officials are also expecting protests by groups opposed tosame-sex marriage." 3

Loving, committed same-sex couples who wish to marry in DC might wish to do so as soon as possible. Their opportunity to marry opened on MAR-03 but could be slammed shut at any time, as it California.

As of 2010-MAR-03, SSM is now legal in six jurisdictions in the U.S.: Connecticut, District of Columbia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Two days later, Mexico City also started issuing same-sex marriage licenses. This raised the total number of political jurisdictions in North America that offers marriage equality to an even 20, including all ten provinces and three territories in Canada, and Mexico City.

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2010-MAR-03: Response from National Organization for Marriage:

This group is totally dedicated to preventing any marriage by same-sex couples. Their executive director Brian S. Brown wrote on 2010-MAR-03 -- the first day that the City of Washington accepted marriage applications -- that:

"It is a sad day in our nation's capital, as District offices begin accepting marriage applications from same-sex couples."

"Local officials in Washington, DC have done everything possible to silence District residents opposed to same-sex marriage, even going so far as to deny their civil right to file a referendum."

As noted elsewhere in this section, city officials had no option but to deny a public referendum because Title IV of the District of Columbia Home Rule Act prohibits them from authorizing a referendum if "The measure authorizes, or would have the effect of authorizing, discrimination prohibited under Chapter 14 of Title 2." Chapter 14 refers to the District of Columbia's Human Rights Act (HRA). City officials had to obey the law, no matter what their personal preferences were.

Brown continued:

"And despite strong efforts in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the Democratic leadership refused to step in to protect voters rights in DC."

"However, while same-sex marriages will be permitted in the District for the time being, NOM is continuing to fight bring an initiative to the ballot to restore marriage to what it has always been -- the union of a husband and wife. We will fight on!  This battle is far from over. Standing shoulder to shoulder with Bishop Harry Jackson, Dr. Walter Fauntroy, and the entire Stand ForMarriage team, we are confident that at the end of the day, DC voters will have the chance to repeal this bill at the ballot box."

"Although lower courts have allowed the DC Board of Elections to hide behind the Human Rights Act as a reason to deny voters the chance to have a say on marriage, we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal. Just yesterday, although Chief Justice John Roberts did not grant our request for an injunction to stop the same-sex marriage bill from taking effect, he noted that the initiative effort is still pending, and that our arguments for bringing the initiative to the ballot have 'some force,' and could be pursued in the initiative case."

"We will continue to pursue every avenue available to make sure that initiative right, guaranteed to DC voters by the District Charter, is upheld -- and while we press the legal case, we are also continuing to grow the relationships and coalitions in the District that will be key to our success during the campaign. This is our nation's capital, and we're determined to do what it takes to make sure marriage is protected." 4

The marriages that Brown wants to protect are those involving opposite-sex spouses. His organization has no desire to protect marriages of same-sex spouses. Rather, they hope the eventually, the District of Columbia will forcibly divorce same-sex married couples.


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Still another attempt to derail SSM in DC?

The health care reform bills passed during 2010-MAR had to be handled by a circuitous route involving passage of one bill by the Senate, passage of the same bill by the House, passage of a second bill by the House that made minor adjustments to the original bill, and passage of the latter bill by the Senate. In a desperate attempt to derail the second bill, Senate Republicans generated 30 amendments hoping that one of them would pass, thus triggering another cycle through the House. Many if not most had nothing to do with health care at all. Some commentators say that they were proposed to provide political ammunition for the 2010-NOV elections. All 30 amendments were rejected.

One of the amendments was by Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT), a well known champion of restricting rights for LGBT persons. If passed, it would have stopped same-sex marriages in Washington DC and required a referendum by the voting public in 2010-NOV on whether same-sex marriage would be resumed.

Voting against the amendment were:

  • All of the Democratic senators
  • Both of the independent senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), and
  • Two Republican Senators, Olympia Snow and Susan Collins, both of Maine.

The vote was held in the early morning of 2010-MAR-25. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 59 to 36. Same-sex marriages continued unimpeded in the District of Columbia. 6

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Washington, D.C., Ushers in Same-Sex Marriage," CitizenLink, 2010-MAR-02, at:
  2. Tony Perkins, "Washington Update: D.C. ties the knot but leaves voters unraveled," Family Research Council, 2010-MAR-02.
  3. Keith L. Alexander, "D.C. marriage bureau preparing for crush of same-sex couples," Washington Post, 2010-MAR-02, at:
  4. Brian S. Brown, "We will fight on in DC!," National Organization for Marriage mailing, 2010-MAR-03.
  5. Tom Ramstack, "Licenses for gay marriages issued in Washington D.C., All Headline News, 2010-MAR-03, at:
  6. "Antigay D.C. Marriage Senate Amend. Defeated ," The Advocate, 2010-MAR-25, at:
  7. John Jalsevac, "People Have no Right to Vote on Gay 'Marriage' Rules D.C. Appeals Court," Life Site News, 2010-JUL-15, at:

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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posting: 2010-FEB-03
Latest update: 2010-JUL-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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