Same-Sex Marriage Activists Regroup; Political Reality Poses Hurdles

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 5, 2008 | Go to article overview

Same-Sex Marriage Activists Regroup; Political Reality Poses Hurdles


Byline: Gary Emerling, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Backers of an attempt to legalize same-sex marriage in the District next year are re-evaluating their strategy in light of political realities, including a California referendum last month in which blacks voted overwhelmingly for a constitutional amendment to prohibit the practice.

It's a little tricky right now, said D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and one of two gay members on the city's legislative body. And it's a very considerable list of stakeholders who need to be strategically engaged.

A bill legalizing gay marriage in the District likely would pass with a majority of council support. But whether it's in the city's best interest to pursue it as a priority next year, and whether the measure would earn the support of the city's black community or get federal approval, remain in question. A gay-marriage measure could complicate the agenda of President-elect Barack Obama, a Democrat, as well as the District's quest for full voting representation in the House.

Proposition 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry, passed last month in California with 52 percent of the vote. CNN exit polls suggested that 70 percent of black voters and 53 percent of Hispanic voters were in favor of the ballot measure.

In the District, where more than half of the population is black, objections from minority voters might not deter the council or Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat who has said he supports gay marriage.

D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said he is analyzing actions on same-sex marriage in states like California, Massachusetts and Vermont and will advise the mayor about what an effort in the District might face.

I would tell him what the legal strengths and weaknesses are, and he would take his position, said Mr. Nickles, who hopes to finish his analysis by the end of the year.

But if those opposed to gay marriage can bring the issue to a voter referendum, it still could spell trouble for proponents. Backing from the city's historically black churches could prove crucial.

A poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that the strongest blocs of opponents to same-sex marriage were evangelical Christians and voters who did not attend college, according to the Associated Press.

The AP also said age and race factors were not as strong as assumed, although according to the poll, 56 percent of voters older than 55 and 57 percent of nonwhite voters cast yes ballots for the gay-marriage ban.

We are figuring out a strategy for reaching out to African-American people, including African-American church leaders, said Michael Crawford, a black gay activist and head of the D.C. for Marriage project. It's obviously going to be a challenge for us in terms of reaching out to African-American religious leaders.

Mr. Crawford's group is holding a community forum Thursday to bring together supporters of gay marriage.

The forum, held at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation's Equality Center at 7 p.m., will lay out the political context for proposed legislation and help allies figure out a unified way of moving forward, Mr. Crawford said.

The Rev. Derrick Harkins, pastor of the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Northwest - which was founded in 1839 - said he would not be in favor of a same-sex marriage bill and doesn't think one would be met with great enthusiasm on the part of the African-American church.

The framework . …

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Same-Sex Marriage Activists Regroup; Political Reality Poses Hurdles
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