The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, a GLBT political club and one of the District's most influential, succeeded in finding some common ground in the push for marriage equality in D.C. at the group's meeting on Monday night.
While there has been general agreement among the city's gay activists in favor of marriage equality, questions of strategy and timing have led to some division. Nevertheless, those Stein members voting at the April 20 meeting overwhelmingly agreed to support a resolution stating, in part: "…the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club supports legislation to provide for marriage equality in the District of Columbia," after deleting verbiage that called on the City Council to enact such legislation and on Mayor Fenty to sign it. It may have seemed a simple step, but it went far in providing some community cohesion in that it drew support -- to some degree -- from both those advocating an "if not now, when?" approach and those favoring a more cautious strategy.
"We've been doing a lot of backbiting," said Rick Rosendall of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.
At the meeting, which attracted about 70 people to the John A. Wilson Building, one of the most prominent activists to oppose the resolution was Phil Attey, co-chair of Obama Pride Metro D.C. during the presidential campaign. He warned that in his tally of the congressional committee members who would likely have an opportunity to oversee any marriage-equality legislation coming from the City Council, support is not guaranteed. He warned that unfriendly members of Congress may also use such an opportunity to turn back equality measures already won in the District.
The majority, however, appear to be moving in the direction of acting now, rather than later.
As Councilmember David Catania (I-At large), the openly gay councilmember who has said he will likely introduce a marriage-equality bill at some point, told the crowd, "I'm not naïve. I understand what the journey looks like. But it takes a step in the right direction. … If there's going to be a struggle, why wait? We know the arguments and we know the opponents. We're either up for it, or we're not."
Also gauging congressional sentiment, Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At large), the straight ally who recently introduced legislation to recognize legal marriages -- including those entered into by spouses of the same sex -- performed in other jurisdictions, commented with a bit of levity on an encounter earlier that Monday with Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s delegate to Congress. Speaking of that measure, which has the full support of the City Council but has yet to face congressional oversight, he quipped, "She had an opportunity to say, 'You're crazy.' She didn't."
Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who is gay, also attended the Stein Club meeting. Aside from issues of marriage-equality, he mentioned the Monday dismissal of Clark Ray as Mayor Fenty's director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Ray, in attendance Monday, was the highest-ranking, openly gay member of the Fenty administration -- the only gay agency head -- until being dismissed. Stein Club members also approved a resolution introduced by Peter Rosenstein requesting a meeting with the mayor to explain the firing and to ensure the GLBT community is represented at the highest levels of the Fenty administration.
Nevertheless, marriage was center stage for most of the evening, and the resolution supporting marriage equality included discussion about the "blowback" to come. There was, for example, a protest planned for Tuesday, April 21, in front of the Wilson Building, called by the Coalition of Gospel Ministers Against Same-Sex Marriage. While that protest was postponed, a spokesperson at the College Park-based High Impact Leadership Coalition, affiliated with the planned protest and led by Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., an outspoken opponent of marriage equality, promised Tuesday morning that a new protest date would soon be announced.
Michael Crawford, a founder of The DC Center-sponsored DC for Marriage group, said Tuesday that he's pleased with the apparent disarray from the opposition, adding that the Stein resolution is a positive movement and that the support of as many organizations as possible -- particularly non-gay groups, such as DC for Democracy -- is crucial.
The next Stein Club-sponsored meeting to discuss marriage, "Women & Conversations: Jumping the Broom," will be held Saturday, April 25, at Be Bar, 1318 Ninth St. NW, at 3 p.m., free and open to all. Also on the marriage calendar, the city's Democratic ward organizations are expected to vote on marriage-equality resolutions at upcoming meetings.
Longtime activist Philip Pannell urged members to attend those meetings, saying, "This could be a true test of how grassroots Democratic activists feel about marriage equality."
Emphasizing unity, Stein Club President Jeffrey Richardson closed the meeting by saying, "We're going to work together. Take that message with you."
Rick Rosendall's Center Field commentary runs bi-weekly in Metro Weekly. For more information about the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, visit them online at www.steindemocrats.org. A calendar of upcoming Democratic ward meetings is available at www.dcdsc.org/calendar.htm.