Rosendall testifies for GLAA against proposed referendum
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Rosendall testifies for GLAA against proposed referendum

Testimony of Rick Rosendall
Vice President for Political Affairs
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C.
Hearing of the D.C. Board of Election and Ethics

Regarding whether the proposed referendum measure entitled
“A Referendum Concerning the Jury and Marriage Amendment Act of 2009”
is a proper subject for a referendum in the District of Columbia

Wednesday, June 10, 1009, 10:30 AM
One Judiciary Square, Room 230 South

Good morning, Board members. I am Rick Rosendall. I live at 1414 17th Street, NW. I am a second generation native Washingtonian. I am Vice President for Political Affairs of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, and I speak for them.

Mention was made a few minutes ago of our detailed report on Marriage Law in the District of Columbia. That report has been published on GLAA’s public website at for five and one-half years, and I commend it to the public’s attention.

The evolution of marriage—part of our ongoing effort as a nation to live out the true meaning of its creed — continues. In recent years, the D.C. Council has changed references to “husband” and “wife” in various parts of the D.C. Code to the gender-neutral “spouse,” and references to “father” and “mother” to “parent.” Now the Council has taken the further step of recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, in keeping with our city’s long tradition of embracing diversity and respecting the rights of all.

Reference has been made to the Dean case from the 1990s, with which GLAA is quite familiar. I will make three points:

First, the Dean case involved a same-sex couple that sought and was denied a marriage license from the District. The measure under discussion today is not about the District issuing a marriage license.

Second, there are now same-sex marriages, as there were not in 1995, in six states as well as 18,000 in California and in six countries, including the first nation in the history of the world whose constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation—the Republic of South Africa, where I met my own life partner eight years ago.

Third, the legislature’s intent has changed. Nothing in the D.C. Code supports denial of full faith and credit to the legal marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions. The Jury and Marriage Amendment Act was enacted in order to make the District’s policy explicitly clear.

The city recognized the danger of subjecting minority protections to a plebiscite thirty years ago when it barred referenda and initiatives from taking away rights guaranteed under Title 2, Chapter 14. Here is the relevant passage in D.C. Code Section 1-1001.16 (b)(1): “Upon receipt of each proposed initiative or referendum measure, the Board shall refuse to accept the measure if the Board finds that it ... authorizes, or would have the effect of authorizing, discrimination prohibited under Chapter 14 of Title 2....”

Authorizing discrimination against gay people is precisely the purpose of the proposed referendum, which is why the Board should refuse to accept it.

My esteemed colleague, Bob Summersgill, who is a former president of GLAA, could not be here today because of jury duty, but I would like to note a few things in the written testimony he submitted: “The Measure has the effect of authorizing discrimination based on sex and sexual orientation with respect to compensation and privileges of employment. Many organizations and businesses offer discounts and benefits for married couples that join together. The Measure would make same-sex couples ineligible for these discounts in violation of § 2-1402.31.” Bob provides a long list of benefits that the government provides to married couples. I won’t go through the whole list, but I commend it to your attention.

[During questioning, I added that current District law does not allow a couple to be both married and a domestic partnership, so couples who were married in California who come to D.C. cannot be domestic partners and hence would receive none of the benefits of marriage. This is in addition to the fact, noted by Mr. Flowers, that the meaning of marriage is widely understood, while there is no widespread and consistent understanding of what a domestic partnership means.]

The author of the legislation now targeted for referendum, Council member Mendelson, who sat in this chair, won all eight wards of the city when he was re-elected in 2006, by which point he had already been a longstanding, open champion of equality for same-sex couples and their families. And let me answer the question raised by the proponents on the meaning of the phrase “marriage equality”: it means equal protection for same-sex couples in the area of civil marriage law. I think that is pretty clear; it may not be welcome, but its meaning is clear.

All twelve Council members who voted for the Jury and Marriage Amendment Act were duly elected by the people of the District.

Bishop Jackson essentially urges the Board to permit a ballot measure that establishes religion, which would violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I note that many congregations and clergy in D.C. support marriage equality. No religious group may impose its doctrine on others. Here we are talking about the civil law and civil marriage.

I must challenge the proponents’ characterization of social science. My dear friends Alan and Will, at whose wedding I officiated fifteen years ago, have a beautiful, healthy, smart and happy child named Sam, who is far better off than he would have been had he remained in the orphanage where they found him. Thousands of gay couples have found children that other people threw away or had taken from them for the child’s own welfare, and given them loving homes. Not a shred of evidence shows those children would be better off if they had remained wards of the state.

Marriage is not a special right.

Laws against polygamy do not prevent someone from marrying someone. By contrast, the proposed restriction would prevent me from marrying one person I love and who loves me back. That is discriminatory under D.C. law, and the Board should therefore refuse to accept the proposed referendum.

Thank you.