District of Columbia Offers Legal Marriage
© August 15, 2010, Demian
On December 15, 2009, the D.C. Council overwhelmingly passed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Act of 2009. On December 18, D.C.’s Mayor Adrian Fenton signed the bill and D.C. became the 8th American government to offer full, legal marriage to same-sex couples. This is the 4th U.S. area — after Vermont, Maine (which was soon removed by ballot measure), and New Hampshire — to offer legal marriage without a court order. The law became effective on March 3, 2010.
Since D.C. allows common-law marriage, it is likely that this status would also be available to same-sex couples. This status has never previously been available to same-sex couples.
The District of Columbia has had domestic partner registration since 2001.
Even though the D.C. marriage bill was presented legislatively and not by public vote, pro-marriage groups campaigned throughout the district to present the facts and gain support. Said Michael Crawford, leader of D.C. For Marriage: “In D.C., outreach to African-Americans wasn’t part of the campaign. It was the campaign.”
Supporters drew parallels to Martin Luther King Jr.’s advocacy for equal rights. They stated that banning same-sex marriage would one day seem as damaging as the interracial marriage bans overturned by the Supreme Court in 1967. Marriage opponents ran anti-marriage ads on the Howard University radio station, an historically black college. Both sides endeavored to gain support from black leaders and churches.
On April 7, 2009, the same day that Vermont legalized same-sex marriage, the council voted 12-0 to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. On May 5, 2009, a second procedural vote passing the bill 12-1. The act was signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty and was subject to a review period, which expired on July 7, 2009.
On June 13, 2009, the Board of Elections ruled that a petition seeking to repeal the recognition law and delay its enactment until a vote was held in a referendum, would be invalid as it would violate provisions of the Human Right Act specifically disallowing the public voting against protected classes which included sexual orientation.
On June 30, 2009, a D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith E. Retchin ruled against a group opposed to the recognition law, who wanted a referendum on the issue, and a delay to enacting the law until the court decided the full case. The group had filed with the Court three weeks after the passage of the new law, Judge Retchin ruled “there was no excuse” for them to file their lawsuit so late. She also agreed with the Board’s decision that allowing a vote on the issue would violate the Human Rights Act.
D.C. Councilman David Catania introduced the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act 2009” on October 6, 2009 to allow same-sex couples to marry in the district.
On 17 November, the D.C. Board of Ethics and Elections rejected a proposed ballot measure from Bishop Harry Jackson to ban same-sex marriage, saying that the proposed ballot measure “authorizes discrimination prohibited under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.”
On December 1, 2009 the act passed by a vote of 11-2 on its first reading. The second procedural reading was voted on December 15, 2009 where the measure was again passed 11-2.
On December 18, 2009, District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenton signed the bill ending discrimination in marriage against LGBT families in our nation’s capitol.
The bill signing, was hosted by Rev. Robert Hardies and his congregation at All Souls Church, Unitarian, and featured Mayor Fenty, along with D.C. religious, spiritual, political, and civil and gay rights leaders. Rev. Hardies, is a co-chair of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, and he stated:
“The signing of this bill marks a watershed moment for human rights in the District of Columbia. No longer will gay and lesbian couples be denied the fundamental right to marriage in our nation’s capital. I and the nearly 200 D.C. clergy who supported this bill look forward to celebrating the marriages of loving lesbian and gay couples in sanctuaries like this one all over our city. I applaud Mayor Fenty and the D.C. Council for standing on the side of love and ending discrimination against gay and lesbian Washingtonians.”At the same event, Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations issued the following statement:
“I applaud the new law that extends marriage rights to same-sex couples in Washington, D.C. This legislation will make a profound difference to many Washington families, and it will shine as a beacon of hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens across the country.Rev. Nathan Harris, pastor of Lincoln Congregational Temple, United Church of Christ, and member of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, praised the new law:
“Today is a historic day in our community for social justice and inclusion in keeping with the proudest traditions of our religious heritage. For too long it has been unjust to deny same-sex couples the opportunity to consecrate their relationships in the same way in which we allow opposite-sex couples. Our coalition of nearly 200 D.C. clergy believe that marriage equality fulfills our commitment to God’s love and justice. Nevertheless, we respect our friends who hold different views and are pleased that today’s law embraces our nation’s strongest traditions of religious freedom.”On March 2, 2010, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. rejected a request from opponents of same-sex marriage to have the United States Supreme Court delay the law.
Because of the District’s unique jurisdictional status, all bills passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor must go to Congress for a review period of 30 legislative days. There was a congressional attempt to block the law in December 2009, however, it did not get enough support, and, after the review period, the bill became law on March 3, 2010.
The mayor’s office said that typically the court processes 10 licenses per day. By late afternoon of the first day of issuing license application, more than 140 couples had filed to be married.
A study by the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, predicted that more than 14,000 same-sex marriages would occur in the city during the next three years, which could bring in $5 million in new tax revenue and create 700 jobs.
District of Columbia marriage licenses:
For divorce decrees:
A person seeking a divorce may file a complaint for divorce in the District Court if they have resided in D.C. for at least 6 months.
A divorce may be granted if:
The armed services would likely consider marriage to a same-sex spouse as grounds for a discharge under its discriminatory policies towards lesbian and gay personnel.
Since the federal system does not recognize same-sex couples, or their legal marriages, getting married does not offer a route to applying for immigration.
There currently is no process that allows a same-sex partner to sponsor a partner for immigration to the U.S. There is no process that allows an individual to sponsor their same-sex partner to become a "Permanent Legal Resident." In the eyes of the American federal system, same-sex couples are legal strangers.
Non-District of Columbia Residents
Partners who are not D.C. citizens may be married in D.C.
However, because many state laws forbid recognition of another state’s same-sex legal marriage license, a civil marriage license would have little or no legal meaning.
Also, it is possible that a D.C. couple would get married, then move elsewhere. While it is certain that the federal system will refuse to recognize the license, it is now known that most states will likewise refuse to recognize it.
In the Event of a Couple Parting
D.C. divorce requires a 6 month residency for one of the parties.
If you live in a state that does not honor your marriage — which may not be determined until requesting something usually triggered by a marriage license — that state’s courts will also be unlikely to grant you a divorce.
The ability to divorce is critical. Besides the emotional reasons to dissolve a no longer functioning union, there are legal entanglements to consider. For instance, should one of the partners form a new relationship, they would not be able to sign up their new partner for workplace benefits. Most employers require an affidavit that stipulates that the partners are not married to anyone else, or have another domestic partner.
District of Columbia Superior Court Marriage Bureau - Information and procedures
Marriage License Application - PDF file
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