D.C. Law Permitting Same-Sex Marriages Takes Effect

by HRC Staff

Nation's Capital is Sixth U.S. Jurisdiction to Permit Same-Sex Couples to Marry

WASHINGTON - The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, issued the following statement after a new law in the District of Columbia permitting same-sex marriages became effective today.

"This law is an important step towards equal dignity, equal respect and equal rights for all residents of our nation's capital," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "Starting today, same-sex couples in D.C. will be able to enjoy all the rights and responsibilities that come with civil marriage. At the same time, the law also preserves the right of clergy and congregations to adhere to their faith traditions. Today represents a hard-fought victory for D.C. residents and a poignant reminder - here in the home of our federal government and most cherished national monuments - of the historic progress being made towards ensuring equality for all across the nation."

"Congratulations to the D.C. Council, Mayor Fenty and the many advocates of equality in our community who worked hard for marriage equality in D.C. and who will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that these basic rights are protected in the future," Solmonese added. "As the courts have uniformly recognized in upholding D.C.'s broad anti-discrimination laws, no one should have to have their marriages - or any of their civil rights - put to a public vote."

Rev. Nathan Harris, pastor of Lincoln Congregational Temple, United Church of Christ, and member of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, praised the new law. "Today is a historic day in our community for social justice and inclusion in keeping with the proudest traditions of our religious heritage," said Harris. "For too long it has been unjust to deny same-sex couples the opportunity to consecrate their relationships in the same way in which we allow opposite-sex couples. Our coalition of nearly 200 D.C. clergy believe that marriage equality fulfills our commitment to God's love and justice. Nevertheless, we respect our friends who hold different views and are pleased that today's law embraces our nation's strongest traditions of religious freedom."

On December 15, 2009, the D.C. Council overwhelmingly passed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Act of 2009. The bill was signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty and transmitted to Congress for review. Marriage equality opponents attempted to stop the legislation from taking effect by proposing a referendum. However, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled last month - for the third time on the marriage issue - that the proposed ballot measure would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act and therefore was not a proper subject matter for the referendum process. A D.C. Superior Court judge recently denied opponents' request for a preliminary injunction to stay the legislation, which followed two previous court rulings rejecting opponents' efforts for a referendum or initiative on similar grounds. The D.C. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court denied opponents' emergency appeals.

The law took effect today, at the conclusion of the mandatory 30-day Congressional review period. During this period, Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) introduced legislation that would have halted implementation of the new law. Both bills attracted only minimal support and did not move through their respective chambers. Opponents of marriage equality continue to pursue a ballot initiative defining marriage between a man and a woman - and in the wake of several legal defeats have appealed to the D.C. high court. The Court of Appeals has said it plans to hear oral arguments on whether the initiative can go forward in May 2010.

Under a law enacted last June, same-sex couples living in D.C. who were legally married elsewhere were recognized as married in D.C. and received the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage. Pursuant to the new law, same-sex couples may now enter into civil marriages in D.C. The law ensures that clergy and religious organizations are not required to provide services, accommodations, facilities or goods for the solemnization of a same-sex marriage.

At this time, besides D.C., five states permit marriage for same-sex couples under state law: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire. Five states-California, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada-provide same-sex couples with access to the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Wisconsin provide same-sex couples with limited rights and benefits. New York recognizes marriages of same-sex couples validly entered into outside of the jurisdiction, and just last week the Maryland Attorney General issued an opinion that the state may start recognizing out-of-jurisdiction same-sex marriages.

California recognized marriages by same-sex couples between June and November of 2008, before voters approved Proposition 8, which purports to amend the state constitution to prohibit marriage equality. Couples married during that window remain married under California law, but all other same-sex couples can only receive a domestic partnership within the state. The state will recognize out of state same-sex marriages that occurred before November 5, 2008 as marriages and those that occurred on or after November 5, 2008 as domestic partnerships. The Prop. 8 vote has been challenged in federal court testimony recently concluded in a trial in San Francisco.

Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state or D.C. For an electronic map showing where marriage equality stands in the states, please visit: www.HRC.org/State-Laws.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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