Last night I decided to take part in DC politics for the first time in a while.
The subject matter? Whether the ability to marry should be extended to all couples, both gay and straight. As anybody who knows me can attest, I’m a staunch advocate for marriage equality – as well as a vehement opponent of theocracy at any level. The bill introduced by the DC Council – B18-482, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 – provides marriage equality via universally accessible civil marriage, while allowing churches to choose to only perform marriages that conform to their core beliefs. The bill isn’t perfect (a sunset clause regarding domestic partnerships should be removed), but it opens the door to equality for my gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer friends and family.
My basic stance is that marriage should be available to all as a basic, inalienable civil right. And civil rights are self-evident and do not, in my mind, require any sort of referendum to affirm. Kirstin and I choose not to marry, even though we have been a committed couple for 14 years, because our GLBTQ friends and family are unable to enjoy the same right as us. Marriage is about love and commitment, and some of the most loving and committed couples I know are denied the right to marry. Sure, civil unions have been offered as an “equal form of compensation,” but as with every similar battle in the history of human rights, separate-but-equal is not truly equal.
This quote, heard recently in Maine where a referendum on same-sex marriage will be on the ballot next week, is my base-level, non-dogmatic response to those who seek to deny the right of marriage equality:
“If you don’t believe [equal rights] are for everybody, then have some of yours taken away and see what happens.” – Paul Roeddicker, Maine resident, Vietnam veteran, devout Catholic.
So I watched the early testimonials as they were streamed over the internet and heard a lot of supporters of this legislation – the final ratio of bill supporters to opponents was in the 8-to-1 zone – and most were passionate without being combative. By and large, the only folks to truly raise their voices were those opposed due to religious beliefs – reaffirming my notion that being loud does not equate to being correct. The chairman of the hearing, Councilman Phil Mendelson, kept the hearing moving at a good clip.
I arrived at the Council chambers just before 7 pm, and there were still some 50 witnesses yet to testify. As the evening rolled along, the testimony continued to pack an emotional punch, both from those who want to have the right to marry and from those to whom same-sex marriage is an abomination. The courage amongst the speakers, both pro and con, was moving: from couples who want to marry, to those who married out-of-state because it was their only option, to clergy and private citizens on both sides, and to the father who brought his young daughter to the hearing to teach her a lesson about how discrimination is wrong (and how the government is there to help the people). It was impressive, to say the least.
Even the most contentious interactions were, for the most part, cordial and professional. The most heated exchange during my time in the room was between the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and Councilmember David Catania, co-sponsor of the bill and himself a gay man in a committed, long-term relationship. The parries and gamesmanship were fun to see, with the Archdiocese wanting more leniency to discriminate against GLBTQ citizens, lest they sue to get the right, and Catania saying simply “we’ll see you in court.”
I was not on the evening’s speaking list, but there were a handful of no-shows, and CM Mendelson is known for allowing others to get in their views. So I joined three other people at the panelists’ table to make my opinion known. I was the second to testify, after another supporter of marriage equality took his turn to grill another Councilmember, Yvette Alexander from Ward 7, on her priorities and her definition of civil rights.
It wasn’t my best speech. It was impromptu, with no notes, and I was tired and in need of food, but I came across well to both those in the audience and folks watching from home.
But I sounded downright coherent compared to these two women who followed me.
I really can’t summarize accurately their rambling testimony – you need to watch, listen, and then watch again.
The first woman, a marriage counselor, had a fistful of pictures and papers with her. The pictures were of her family, and one of the papers had some “scripture” on it that resembled the treatise-cum-diatribe on the labels from Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, and she spoke of families, and marriage is there for procreation only, and how things like condoms are “unsacred… dirty, with that slobbery stuff in it…. that can make you sick and itch,” and how God is great and all that, and how it’s important to show kids the mating season at the zoo, and…. and… you get the picture. It was a ramble: disjointed and very much a complementary piece to Dr. Bronner’s label, albeit with less soapy goodness.
But the second woman, Ms. Ernestine Copeland, was the hit of the internet today. She started a sermon that became more and more loud and crazy by the second. I think she was associated with the previous woman, as the testimony turned into a call-and-response show. Ms. Copeland’s God is all about reproduction, and apparently she was in the presence of the devil by being in the room with all of us “heathens.” How about a quote:
”Sodomy and Gomorrah, I keep saying that…. Now how in the world did you get my sisters and brothers to follow your evil and corrupt ways? The demons has showed up! … Mr. Wells, is that your name? Mr. Contella (sic), Mr. Mendelson — y’all sure put the fire to them Christian folks and they buckled. But i will not buckle, this is the word of almighty God. And I tell you what about same-sexual unions, what would they do: They will destroy our society! … Shame on you, shame on you for not standing up for the holy word of God. Shame on you demon, Demon Wells, Contrella (sic) — just ’cause y’all want to practice y’all corrupt and immoral ways….” (trasncript courtesy of MetroWeekly
I could go on, but really, she’s a trip, and is best experienced in full, technicolor glory.
I did my best to keep calm and collected, as did the members of the Council who witnessed this woman’s descent into complete lunatic diatribe. Eventually, her microphone was shut off, and security kept an eagle eye on her after the meeting adjourned for the night.
Those of us who were in a bit of a stupefied awe shared a good laugh and a huge sigh of relief. The hearing certainly saved The Crazy™ for the end. The DC Council should be mindful of this and sell popcorn and other concessions for the continuation on November 2 – they could make a nice bit of cash from it.