Sean Bugg

Is Mayor Fenty more cautious on marriage equality than was Mayoral Candidate Fenty?

Filed By Sean Bugg | March 12, 2009 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics

Earlier this week, D.C. Councilmember Phil Mendelson (At Large) released a letter (PDF after the jump) to Mayor Adrian Fenty urging him to move more expeditiously in applying the District's law on recognizing as domestic partnerships any legally formed relationships from other states and jurisdictions. The law went into effect in September 2008, but has not yet been implemented. Mendelson writes:

"At the core, the various domestic partnership bills that have come out of the Council over the years have sought to advance the longstanding policy of the District to bring equality to domestic partners and their families. The sudden concerns raised by the Attorney General are at odds with this policy. Moreover, the Attorney General's recent comments suggest that he advocates a narrowing view of our domestic partnership policy.

"It is ironic that the Attorney General is being so cautious in this area of the law, concerning same-sex relationships, when in other areas where the issue is expanding executive power there is not hesitation whatsoever -- e.g., expansion of administrative subpoena authority or unilateral determination of the unconstitutionality of Council Acts."

What's odd to me is how cautious the Fenty administration is on this issue, given how damn-the-torpedos, full-steam-ahead candidate Fenty was when courting gay votes for the 2006 election.

From the interview I did with then-Councilmember Fenty for Metro Weekly in 2005:

MW: One ongoing issue is gay marriage. Whoever is mayor for the next few years is going to have to deal with it multiple times from various angles. What's your personal opinion on gay and lesbian marriage? Is it something you support?

FENTY: Absolutely, I do. Without any question I support laws that would sanction gay marriages and civil unions, domestic partnerships, whatever you want to call it. I think the only people who think like I do but want to slow things down are people who fear retribution from Congress. I don't know where that debate is going to go. I understand that some members of the GLBT community are fearful of retribution by Congress. Whether we should be fearful or not is one thing, but there is no question that Congress will do something [if a law passes].

MW: You would be willing to sign something even if Congress said it would take action against the city?

FENTY: Absolutely. We are American citizens. Congress has no place getting into any law that we pass. I think we should do it in this case and I think we should do it in other cases like the commuter tax, where Congress tries to prevent us from passing laws that have nothing to do with them.

MW: It sounds like you'd be willing to take a more confrontational approach with congress in terms of its relationship to the district.

FENTY: I believe that for democracy, and for rights in general, there has to be confrontation. We have a group of American citizens right now called the United States Congress, who are preventing us from having the same rights that they have and everyone else who lives in this country has. We have to be upset about it and I think this is a popular view, too. People talk about a lot of things, but when they talk about voting rights in the city and getting Congress off our backs, they are in favor of more confrontation.

I'll be thinking about that stance as we get closer to an actual marriage equality bill in the District.

3.9.09 Letter to Mayor re DO recognition.pdf

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Bob Summersgill | March 12, 2009 1:31 PM

One might guess that Mayor Fenty simply doesn't think about us. He regularly passes the decision making on gay issues to the Attorney General Peter Nickles. He ignores his Director of the Office of GLBT Affairs Chris Dyer. Nickles, a Virginia citizen, has repeatedly slammed GLBT people as unworthy of basic rights and protections.

Fortunately, many of these issues aren't up to him to decide. The Council is interested in protecting our rights, and once again Councilmember Phil Mendelson is jumping in to change the recognition law so that couples with civil unions, domestic partnerships, and marriages from Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, California, and Oregon, will be recognized as domestic partners in the District without the Mayor having to take action.

The sad thing is that this is an easy thing. This costs nothing. There is no constituency lobby against recognition. The Congress doesn’t care about domestic partnerships and has shown that they won’t interfere. There is no downside for the Mayor to recognize all of these couples. There is an upside as the Mayor can boast that he has done something. Instead he has taken the opportunity to tell us that we aren’t important and that he doesn’t care about our families. He is telling us that he will only do what he is required to do, and nothing more.

What happens when things get tough? We know for sure that Peter Nickles will not support us when there is a referendum or the Congress pushes back like they are on guns now. Will the Mayor suddenly remember his campaign promises and back us? We don’t have any reason to think he will.