Rosendall delivers GLAA testimony for marriage equality bill
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Rosendall delivers GLAA testimony for marriage equality bill

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance
P.O. Box 75265, Washington, D.C. 20013 (202) 667-5139

Testimony on

Bill 18-0482, Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009

Delivered before the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary

October 26, 2009

Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson. I am Rick Rosendall, Vice President for Political Affairs of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, founded in 1971.

We strongly support Bill 18-482, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009. We are proud to appear today as part of a broad-based coalition for equality.

One of our opponents, Bishop Harry Jackson, recently took time away from his attacks on national health care reform to describe marriage equality activists as both a small minority and a Goliath that needed a David to slay us. We defend Jackson’s right to preach as he pleases, however contradictory. But he has no monopoly on faith. Indeed, more than 250 D.C. clergy have signed a civil marriage equality pledge.

Jackson claims that sociological studies have shown that same-sex marriage harms marriage and families. This is false. In Massachusetts, the divorce rate has gone down to pre-World War II levels—far lower than in the Bible Belt. In my written testimony I provide references to show that the children of same-sex couples do just as well as other children. Our opponents should stop using children to slander gay people. At issue here is not whether our families will exist; you will hear today from people whose love has overcome every obstacle that prejudice has thrown in their way. The question is whether we will enjoy equal protection of the law.

It is revealing that many of our opponents do not believe that women should be able to serve as ministers. To defend this misogyny they cite Scripture, just as defenders of slavery once did. It is therefore no surprise that they portray marriage as eternally unchanging—ignoring the changes of the past half century that have done so much for the emancipation of women.

Our opponents believe that you, our elected legislators, are unfit to decide this matter. They demand a ballot initiative. It is improper to put human rights protections to a plebiscite; it is also against D.C. law. The Council routinely deals with controversies, and is capable of dealing with this one. People who disagree can protest, lobby, and support challengers in the next election. Polls, however, show that most Washingtonians agree with us.

Decades of advocacy have brought GLAA to this moment. We do our work so that those who come after us will face fewer obstacles than we did, and so that their loves will not mark them as second-class citizens.

Bishop Jackson talks as if gay people just arrived here from another planet. In fact, our roots in this city run deep. We have helped build our communities, and we will defend them from the ministers of fear and intolerance.

To our opponents: Our lives are as worthy as yours, our love is as strong as yours, and our resolve is as great as yours. Civil marriage equality will protect and strengthen thousands of actual families and make our city more faithful to its motto, Justitia Omnibus.

We ask that the portion of the bill dealing with the domestic partnership law be deleted. The issues surrounding domestic partnerships are complex and should be carefully examined after civil marriage equality is well and securely in place. The administration of marriage licensing should be moved from the Clerk of the Superior Court, which is outside of D.C.’s control, to the Office of Vital Statistics. We endorse the changes proposed by our colleague Mark Levine, which we will leave it to him to present.

Thank you.

Marriage Equality: 10 Talking Points

1. D.C. voters have long supported diversity and inclusiveness, including equal rights for their GLBT neighbors. Several anti-gay ministers thundered against domestic partnerships and sodomy law repeal in the early 1990s, to no avail. It has been three decades since an anti-gay candidate has been elected in our city. The last D.C. politician to make homophobia a centerpiece of his campaign was Vincent Orange, who as a mayoral candidate in 2006 called his rivals “morally unfit” for office because they supported marriage equality. He lost badly. Much of our opposition comes from outside the city. Ward 9 voters can neither elect nor defeat anyone.

2. More than 250 D.C. clergy have signed a declaration of support for marriage equality. See Most other clergy have steered clear of Bishop Harry Jackson’s inflammatory demonstrations. This is partly because of Jackson’s notoriety, including a sense that he is a tool of right-wing evangelical ministers whose purpose is exploitation rather than true fellowship; and partly because even many ministers opposed to marriage equality are not prepared to set aside more pressing issues for their communities like health care, jobs, and education in favor of a divisive and emotional fight that helps no one. There is little need for any Council member to worry that he or she will lose a re-election bid due to the ill-informed and misguided opposition of a small minority.

3. The claim by the anti-gay ministers that they will be forced by the government to conduct or approve of same-sex marriages is simply false, nor has any marriage equality advocate proposed any such thing. This issue is a red herring. To make this abundantly clear, the bill as introduced by Councilmember Catania explicitly reaffirms the protections guaranteed by the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We support the religious freedom language in the bill.

4. This is not a fight between activists on one side and clergy on the other. The GLBT community and its allies represent many faiths. A list of gay-affirming congregations compiled by the D.C. Office of GLBT Affairs is available online at: Those who cherry-pick biblical passages to justify intolerance have no monopoly on faith or the use of Holy Scripture. The difference is that we respect and value Washington’s religious diversity and do not seek to use government to establish one faith over others.

5. Marriage equality benefits people of all colors, contrary to efforts by Bishop Jackson to create a racial wedge issue. A majority of the District’s gay population is black, extrapolating from the fact that about 60 percent of the city's population is black. A number of leaders of D.C.’s marriage equality effort are African American, including Michael Crawford of D.C. for Marriage and Jeffrey Richardson of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. Furthermore, the Foundation for All D.C. Families last spring provided Council members with a summary of polling data from 2006 showing that significant numbers of black voters, while short of a majority, support equal rights for same-sex couples and oppose any anti-gay initiative.

6. False lessons from Prop 8. Bishop Jackson invokes the passage of California’s anti-gay Proposition 8 in 2008 as proving that Americans in general, including African Americans, share his immovable opposition to marriage equality. By contrast, statistician and polling analyst Nate Silver of wrote on November 11, 2008 that “the notion that Prop 8 passed because of the Obama turnout surge is silly. Exit polls suggest that first-time voters — the vast majority of whom were driven to turn out by Obama ... — voted against Prop 8 by a 62-38 margin.” Thus the “Obama surge” on balance helped the pro-gay side. And the overall vote (52 to 48 percent in favor) was much closer than the previous time Californians voted on the issue (in 2000, passing Proposition 22 by 61 to 39 percent), which means the trend favors equality.

7. Marriage helps people of all income levels, but provides the most help to couples with the fewest financial resources. This is because legal marriage serves as the “poor man’s lawyer,” granting couples a wealth of protections in one fell swoop that otherwise could only be approximated by a series of legal instruments costing thousands of dollars.

8. Polls show majority support for marriage equality among likely District voters. Bishop Jackson claims that the Council is out of step with District voters, but at the Values Voters summit he complained about the lack of support he is getting in D.C., and asked conservatives to stop sounding so racist. His false, over-the-top pronouncements have earned only skepticism.

9. The claim that marriage has remained unchanged for millennia is preposterous. As Empire State Pride Agenda points out, “Marriage is a dynamic institution that has evolved throughout history to meet the needs of society. In fact, much of what was associated with marriage in the past would today be incomprehensible to the majority of Americans. This includes arranged marriages, payment of a dowry, the legally inferior status of women in the marital relationship, polygamous marriages and royal and aristocratic marriage between relatives, such as first cousins.”

10. The push for marriage equality is not just about rights, but about people embracing responsibility. When two people of whatever gender seal their mutual love and commitment with a marriage contract, the community is strengthened. Children are better protected when both of their parents are legally responsible for them, and marriage is the best way of assuring this. Civil unions and domestic partnerships lack the universal recognition and legal certainty of marriage. There are bound to be tensions in any diverse society, but the fact that someone disapproves of, or is uncomfortable with, a particular family is no justification for placing that family outside the protection of the law. That is why a ballot initiative is a bad idea — how would you like your neighbors voting on your marriage? We are talking about the simple justice of extending equal protection to all families in our city. Let’s keep D.C. on the right side of history.


1.      Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, “A Timeline on Marriage Recognition in D.C.,” August 13, 2009,

2.      Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, Marriage Law in the District of Columbia, December 2003,

3.      DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality,

4.      D.C. Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, “Affirming Churches, Synagogues, and Religious Groups,”

5.      Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight, “Prop 8 Myths,” November 11, 2008,

6.      Empire State Pride Agenda, “Same-Sex Marriage Myths Busted,”

7.      Gary J. Gates, M.V. Lee Badgett, Kate Chambers, and Jennifer Macomber, “Adoption and Foster Care by Gay and Lesbian Parents in the United States,” March 2007,

8.      Douglas NeJaime, Jurist Legal News and Research - University of Pittsburgh School of Law, "Scare Tactics: Children in the Battle Over Same-Sex Marriage in California," October 28, 2008,

9.      Brad Sears and Alan Hirsch, Edmonton Journal (Alberta), "No harm done to children of gay marriages: U.S. studies consistently dispute claims of opponents," April 10, 2004,