D.C. City Council Attacks Marriage Again

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.
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Posted: Oct 19, 2010 4:42 PM
D.C. City Council Attacks Marriage Again

They’ve done it again. The DC Council is remaining true-to-form as they plan to allow notaries public to perform marriage ceremonies. They held a public hearing on the matter last Thursday as part of the process the district has to amend laws. It is ironic that just two days before the hearing, a group of DC residents (including myself) filed a cert petition to have the Supreme Court review our case which requested that district residents vote on marriage. So the city council is attempting to bring more radical change to our city before the dust has even settled on the controversial change in the definition of marriage in the district. The irony is heightened by the fact that GLAD is pushing for legalization of prostitution in the district because they feel that many openly gay teenagers are not accepted by their families and are forced into making a living on the streets of Washington, D.C. and other areas.

I voiced my concerns last Thursday at the hearing. Below, we have an excerpt of what I said to the DC Council:

Chairman Mendelson, Members of the Council, friends and fellow citizens…

First of all, I am writing to express my belief that empowering notaries public to perform weddings is ill-conceived and will create long term problems for both our citizens and the institution of marriage. Just six months after passing a controversial same-sex marriage law, it seems that we are unwisely rushing to create another sweeping change to the important institution of marriage…

Under the city’s current marriage law, civil officials and clergy are the two primary classifications of individuals authorized to officiate in these important ceremonies. Under this construct, as I understand it, civil marriages can only be performed by a judge or by a court-appointed person that typically performs marriages at the D.C. Superior Court.

Although the intent of the bill is to give people another option “that requires neither any kind of religious association and you don’t have to go to a courthouse[Melissa Millar legislative counsel to council member Mary Cheh of Ward 2]," it … could result in creating an atmosphere in which citizens enter into the depths of legal and personal commitment required by marriage, without giving the decision the reverence and solemnity it requires…

One detrimental effect of this law could be that we become a community renown for “frivolous” weddings in the days ahead. I realize that dubbing Washington, D.C. the future “Las Vegas of the East” would be overblown for numerous reasons. Nonetheless, we must consider the emotional, familial, and personal costs that trivial marriages could create in our city. Although three other states allow notaries public to perform marriages — Florida, South Carolina and Maine; there is undoubtedly a reason that the remaining 47 states have not followed suit.

This has been a busy week for proponents of traditional marriage in the city. First on Tuesday, members of a group formerly called Stand4Marriage DC filed the cert petition for an appeal to the Supreme Court requesting that district citizens be allowed to vote on the definition of marriage. While this issue is still working its way through the appeals process, the council continues its march to expand the changes in the definition of marriage with this legislation. I would respectfully submit that your proposed marriage law as it stands could further trivialize this critical institution that already experiences approximately a 50% failure rate through divorce. These failed marriages are often the sources of murders, assaults, and deep personal wounds for both spouses and children.

After these very solemn remarks, indulge me as I take a “Walter Mitty moment” to daydream about where we might wind up with marriage in DC. My humor is not meant to offend, but rather to illustrate how far this new law could take the community.

I can see it now. You pick up your marriage license and head to the local Kinko’s copy center, the very same place from where you mailed your wedding invitations. In order to make your dream wedding attractive for the reality show “Say Yes to the Dress,” the bride should wear a copy-paper veil.

Or consider going to a consumer credit store for your wedding ceremony. There you would meet another reality show star, David Tutera, from “My Fair Wedding.” Dressed in outfits purchased from the local Goodwill, you and your fiancée can get married and, as an added bonus, receive financial counsel to deal with your credit problems.

Or perhaps you should go to a “Washington Travel Courier,” where you could get married plus arrange for a “destination honeymoon/vacation” for everyone in your wedding party. What an efficient way to negotiate the perfect nuptials and post-ceremony party!

As humorous as these scenarios are, they are just a few of the options of notaries public actually listed in the phone book. I am certainly not in a position to judge the appropriateness of anyone’s wedding choices. However, reading through the directory of notaries should in itself show how these venues would minimize the significance of such an important moment in someone’s life. Consider that while these relationships can be entered into flippantly under this new procedure, dissolution of these marriages will still require judicial involvement.

In conclusion, I trust that the council agrees to the premise that marriage has a major personal and societal impact. Further, I hope you will agree that marriages should be entered into with seriousness and commitment. For this reason, I would then urge you to reject this legislation as it now stands. Perhaps another group of officiates can be located.

It is obvious to an astute observer that the current presidential administration will attempt to overthrow Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as well as the Defense of Marriage Act. Same-sex marriage advocates are using a myriad of techniques to overthrow our fundamental institutions. Make your voice heard by voting for pro-marriage candidates all across the country. Things will not get better if you simply sit at home for this important mid-term election.