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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Washington, DC

Bill to legalize SSM introduced.
Hearings on the bill

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Valid out-of-state same-sex marriages recognized:

At midnight on the morning of 2009-JUL-07, as a result of action by the Washington DC council and the lack of a veto by Congress, all legal out-of-state marriages became recognized in DC, whether by same-sex or opposite-sex couples. The next step towards marriage equality would be to allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington DC without having to leave the state.

The Baptist Press (BP) had earlier speculated that if the resolution became law, that D.C. council member David Catania (I) would introduce a resolution to legalize same-sex marriage.

Catania, who is openly homosexual, had earlier stated:

"Gays and lesbians bear every burden of citizenship and are entitled to every benefit and protection that the law allows to everyone else." 1

New bill introduced to legalize SSM in Washington, DC:

BP's prophecy was correct. Catania did introduce a bill to create marriage equality by allowing all loving, committed couples to marry, no matter what their gender. This produced immediate outrage, primarily among conservative Christians in Washington DC and the surrounding area. Rallies were held to either have Washington council reject the bill or to promote a referendum so that the public could bypass the city council and decide the issue directly.

The bill resulted in two hearings:

bulletOne was before the city's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary on whether to recommend that the city council pass or reject Bill 18-482, the "Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009."
bulletA second hearing was before the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on whether to allow a ballot initiative that would allow the electorate to vote on whether marriage in the District should be restricted to opposite-sex couples. Recent votes on election days in California (2008) and Maine (2009) have done exactly that. They squeaked by with a majority of only 2 or 3 percentage points. A similar vote in Washington DC would be close; it might well veto SSM.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC) joined with other conservative para-church groups, local DC congregations, pastors, laity. etc. in an attempt to either defeat Bill 18-482 or to force a referendum, and thereby prevent marriage equality in the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, civil rights groups, lesbian gay bisexual transsexual (LGBT) groups, liberal and progressive religious groups -- including over 250 local clergy -- promoted the bill.

Hearings on bill to legalize SSM:

The city Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary held public hearings on 2009-OCT-26 and NOV-02, to hear opinions from the public about David Catania's (Ind.) Bill 18-482. 1,2 Because of the large number of witnesses - 267 in total -- testimony was limited to a maximum of three minutes per person and was held over two days.

Among the 267 witnesses were 24 persons who represented religious organizations. including: Unitarian Universalist, Jewish Reconstructionist, United Church of Christ (2), Congregational United Church of Christ, Covenant Baptist Church. Unity Fellowship Church, Episcopal Church, Metropolitan Community Church, Roman Catholic Church, Society of Friends (Quaker), American Apostolic Church, Washington Ethical Society, United Methodist Church, Jewish Community Relations Council, Interfaith Conference, Palisades Community Church, Christ Living Ministry, International Christian Host Coalition, Christ Community Church, Bethel World Outreach Ministries, Living Word Church, and two individuals representing dioceses that might be Catholic or Episcopal.

A testimony opposing SSM:

On 2009-OCT-26, Richard D. Land, President of the ERLC submitted testimony to the DC's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. He arguing against SSM and in favor of defeating Bill 18-482.

There is a certain irony associated with a Christian leader who has committed his life to promoting religious liberty and ethics while actively promoting:


Discrimination against a minority -- loving, committed same-sex couples -- who wish to exercise a fundamental human right: to marry the person that they love and to whom they have made a lifetime commitment of support.


Denial of the religious liberty of many liberal and progressive Christian denominations and congregations who want to be free to perform marriages for their entire membership, including loving, committed same-sex couples.

His testimony presented three arguments against SSM:


SSM would damage families in DC. He argued that "traditional marriage" between a man and woman improves the happiness of both adults and children in a family, reduces child poverty, decreases infant mortality, lowers crime rates, substance abuse, etc. It increases the stability of, and safety within, communities.

Unfortunately, he did not discuss whether the rights, obligations -- and above all protections -- given to married same-sex couples and their children would produce the same positive results. Instead, he commented on ten years of data from Scandinavian countries where he said that "same-sex marriage is legal." He appears to be confused in this point. Among the Scandinavian countries, only Norway and Sweden have legalized SSM, and that happened only a few months before the hearing. There does not exist ten years of data to draw on. In the rest of Europe, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain now have SSM, but Dr. Land did not provide data from these countries.


The religious liberties of citizens would be significantly infringed upon. He believes that this would take at least two forms:

Public school teachers might be required to teach the fact that both opposite-sex and same-sex couples can marry in the District.


He also said:

"... government restrictions on the religious freedom of religious groups, potentially exposing them to government reprisal for honoring their faith convictions about homosexuality and consequently violating the civil rights of homosexual couples whose marriages have been legally sanctioned."

We haven't been able to figure out what the second part of his sentence means. However, he does make the same mistake as essentially all other commentators: same-sex marriages are not necessarily composed of two lesbians or two gays; sometimes they consist of one person with a homosexual orientation and one bisexual; still others consist of two bisexuals.

It is unclear what form these "restrictions" would take. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that faith groups can continue to discriminate against sexual minorities and same-sex couples by refusing to marry them, by rejecting their membership, ordination, and employment, etc. The same Amendment protects the free speech rights of clergy and laity -- including religious hate speech and even advocacy of genocide -- against same-sex couples and sexual minorities generally.


Most Southern Baptists oppose SSM. That is to be expected because American adults are almost evenly split on whether SSM should be legalized, and most Southern Baptists are politically conservative. He did not mention that liberal and progressive Christians and their denomination heavily favor marriage equality.


Attached to Dr. Land's testimony were copies of resolutions dealing with marriage that had been passed by the Southern Baptist Convention since 1937. 3

The story continues

References used:

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

  1. "D.C. council votes for same-sex marriages," Baptist Press, 2009-MAY-07, at: http://www.sbcbaptistpress.org/
  2. Abby Goodnough & Katie Zezima, "Gay Marriage Advances in Maine," The New York Times, 2009-MAY-05, at:  http://www.nytimes.com/
  3. Richard D. Land, "Testimony ...", ERLC, 2009-OCT-26, at: http://erlc.com/ This is a PDF file.

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Home page > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Couples > SSM > Washington DC > here

Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posting: 2009-APR-10
Latest update: 2009-DEC-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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