First Two Same-Sex Couples to Be Married in Washington D.C.

11 Mar 2010

Gay Couples in Nation's Capital to be Married as "Spouse" and "Spouse"

By: Mary Kathryn Burke

A simple update headlined the Superior Court of D.C. Marriage Bureau Web site this week: NOTE: Pursuant to the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, A18-248, effective March 3, 2010, same sex couples may apply for marriage licenses in the District of Columbia.

After applying on forms that now read "spouse" and "spouse," some same-sex couples will begin to receive marriage licenses Tuesday morning with wedding ceremonies following the same day, even as some opponents vow to work against the measure.

First Couples
Angelisa Young, 47, and partner Sinjoyla Townsend, 41, will be the first D.C., same-sex couple to wed.

Young and Townsend met 12 years ago at the University of the District of Columbia as undergraduates in a constitutional law class. Both are lifetime residents of the metropolitan area and each of them is a D.C. government employee. They will be married at the headquarters for the Human Rights Campaign, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender lobbying group.

The days of awaiting their marriage have been transformative, they said.

"This week has been a whirlwind," Young told the ABC News Law & Justice Unit. "We are in the process of getting dresses and flowers. We got in line for an application Wednesday at six in the morning and they said we were No. 1. It is just a dream come true."

Making it Legal
Most importantly, Townsend said, they share a sense of gratitude.

"I feel proud, elated," she said. "I am very thankful for the effort the City Council put in."

"I work with a lot of sadness," Young, who's employed by the attorney general's office, said, "and I just felt pride and I felt respected. I felt all of those emotions at once."

Although they had a commitment ceremony five years ago and are registered domestic partners, the couple said, marriage, to them, is different.

"We feel gratitude that we are being included," Young said. "We have the legal right to love each other and to provide. I think everyone can understand that."

Few Protestors
The Young-Townsend nuptials will not be the only one at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters Tuesday. The couple will be joined by Reggie Stanley, 50, and Rocky Galloway, 50. Stanley works in financial services and Galloway is a project manager at a tech firm.

Stanley and Galloway are new fathers of 15-months-old twin girls who they have parented since birth. They have been together for six years, have also had a commitment ceremony and are registered domestic partners.

The most striking part of the reaction since Wednesday's ruling has been the conspicuous lack of widespread opposition, Stanley said.

"It just feels like D.C. has this sense of support," Stanley says, "Gay, straight, black, white, Asian, young, old, it is the best of the best of D.C. First and foremost, this is about us as human beings and that we appreciate the diversity among us. We are in a country built on respect and love and responsibility.

"There were only a few protesters," Stanley added. "This will be a recommitment for us and will be for securing protection for our daughters and our family. It's a phenomenal inspiration for the community. I don't mean the gay community. I mean the human community."

Sixth in the Nation
The District of Columbia joined Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont in legalizing marriage between same-sex partners.

Same-sex couples filing for licenses in the District were congratulated by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who wished each couple "a long and fulfilling marriage." And D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said, legally, he believes "it was the right decision."

The decision is a victory for gay-rights advocacy groups who last year faced the possibility of ballot initiatives blocking same-sex marriages.

An elated Aisha Mills, president of the Campaign for All DC Families, said she is "proud of our officials here who continue the progressive legacy of the District of Columbia."

"We're all doing great on the legal front," Mills added. "Judges have voted to deny discrimination on the ballot. We are looking to neutralize any threats and keep Congress at bay."

But opponents such as the National Organization for Marriage issued statements saying that they will continue to fight.

"It is very disappointing that voters in the District of Columbia have been precluded from exercising their constitutional right to a referendum," executive director Brian Brown said in a statement, "However, this battle is far from over. While same-sex marriages will be permitted in the District for the time being, NOM will continue to fight to get an initiative on the ballot."

Most Vocal Opponent
One of the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage has been Bishop Harry Jackson, the senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland. Bishop Jackson is a member of the coalition Stand4Marriage.

"I think it is a real tragedy that the people of Washington, D.C., never got a chance to weigh in on this," Jackson said, referring to the movement for a ballot initiative defining marriage.

"Our whole thing has always been, 'Let the people vote.' You haven't heard the end of this matter from the people who are fighting. This is a civil-rights issue. People have the right to vote."

Jackson, who is black, added that he rejects the idea of gay marriage as civil-rights issue and believes the true civil-rights violation has been the lack of a ballot initiative.

"My father knew civil rights," he said. "We knew civil rights when they said, 'Go to the back of the bus.' I have a strong opinion and I am against same-sex marriage. I am praying for everyone getting married on Tuesday."

Although much of the opposition come from religious groups, many in the religious community came together to support gay marriage, including more than 200 clergy known as D.C. Clergy United.

"We do not believe sexual orientation is chosen but is how you are created," Pastor Dennis W. Wiley of Covenant Baptist Church in Washington DC said. "We believe that it is possible to support same sex marriage and still be faithful to our religious beliefs and tenets."

Author of the Act
Councilman David Catania, who authored the act legalizing same-sex marriage, is perhaps Jackson's most staunch opponent

"This is a journey we have been involved in for decades," Catania said. "What we did was profoundly American. Our city has a rich history of embracing human rights. The population is extremely perceptive to how we expand our human rights."

Catania, who is gay, said the issue of marriage is so important to him that it prompted him to part with the Republican Party in 2004.

"I was the first openly gay member voted to this council," Catania said. "I left the Republican party. I was a gay Republican. An anomaly. But I broke with President Bush over this issue. To make same-sex marriage a violation of the Constitution? What an affront."

Catania vs. Jackson
Catania, who arrived at the city courthouse with cupcakes for gay couples Wednesday, said he saw gay marriage in D.C. not only a personal victory but as a symbolic measure for the country.

"We are shaping and reshaping families and communities and it is perfecting what 'equal rights' means," he said. "In D.C., we have stared down a monster and said, 'Not here.' I was cautious about the national implications but we are the nation's capital. And this is where people come to understand our democracy and to be a part of that understanding."

"D.C. is a tolerant place," Catania added. "We did not have our own indigenous tolerance. It was imported, especially by Bishop Jackson."

Catania said that Jackson relocated from Maryland for the specific purpose of fighting gay marriage, setting up a residence in the District. He said Jackson and his supporters leave many people in D.C. "shocked and chagrined."

"Washingtonians do not like being told how to live our lives by people who are not among us," Catania said. "They blew it. We are eagerly awaiting Jackson's D.C. tax filing, eagerly."

"Lock on the South"
While he waits, some academics looked to the other economic implications of same-sex marriages coming to fruition in the capital.

Lee Badgett of the Williams Institute at UCLA said she anticipates about 50 percent of D.C.'s same-sex couples seeking marriage, about 1,900 couples.

"We see a pretty clear pattern that about half of couples will get married," Badgett said. "We expect they will spend about $10,000 a piece, so right there is about $19 million. D.C. pretty much has a lock on the south. All the same sex couples below the Mason-Dixon line have nowhere else to go."

The Williams Institute also estimated that gay marriage in the city will create about 700 jobs through additional needed hospitality personnel and government employees.

Looking Forward to Tuesday
As for the couples who will spend that money Tuesday, they have been stepping away from politics for the moment and are worrying instead about guest lists, seating charts and the legacy they will leave.

"My children and grandchildren will look back and say, 'Our country saw the light." Young said, with an eye toward her Tuesday wedding. "Right now, reporters are calling us & but outside of this moment, we are really kind of boring people."

Not so, said Townsend, laughing like a long-married spouse: "I don't think I'm boring."

Article taken from ABC