When D.C. Councilmember and alum David Catania (I-At Large, SFS ’90, LAW ’94) gave a speech at Georgetown in March of last year, he talked about same-sex marriage as an “undying civil rights” issue that he hoped to make progress on. What a difference a year makes: Yesterday, Catania was back on campus, discussing the successful same-sex marriage legalization bill he sponsored and the role race and religion played in the fight for marriage equality in the District.
The panel discussion—which also featured Cathy Renna, a media relations expert who specializes on LGBT topics, Richard Sincere (SFS ’81), the president of Gays and Lesbians for Liberty, Michael Crawford, the communications director of Freedom to Marry, and Joseph Palacios, a Georgetown professor and priest who has been vocally supportive of same-sex marriage—focused on how D.C.’s marriage equality movement found success by actively engaging minorities and people of faith.
Catania opened the discussion by emphasizing how D.C.’s civil rights legacy and the high amount of attention local religious groups pay to equality issues made the city well-suited to support same-sex marriage legalization. Over 200 religious leaders joined the D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality alliance and, according to Catania, more clergy members testified for the same-sex marriage bill than against it.
“We’re just not a fertile ground for intolerance,” Catania said.
For Renna, involving religious people in the District’s same-sex marriage movement was particularly important because it challenges the perception that marriage equality is a “God versus Gay” issue.
“What happened in D.C. was incredible,” Renna said. “This community proved that that’s a false dichotomy.”
Renna also said that the very visible racial diversity of the D.C. movement—all of the first three same-sex couples to marry in D.C. were African American—was extremely significant and will challenge the idea prevalent in African American and Latino communities that marriage equality is a white issue.
Many of the panelists said they believed same-sex marriage advocates in other states had a learn a lot from the District’s example. Catania said he recently visited Annapolis to lobby for same-sex marriage legalization in Maryland and was disappointed to find that “all of the people lobbying for equality looked alike.”
He had even harsher words for D.C.’s southern neighbor, though. Catania inveighed against Virginia’s highly restrictive same-sex marriage and civil union ban, calling it a “disgrace to James Madison’s Constitution.”
“Virginia is devolving,” Catania said. “They are sowing the seeds of their own retreat.”
When asked whether he feared his high profile support of same-sex marriage could impact his re-election prospects, Catania said that while he knew he had “caught the attention of the National Organization for Marriage,” he has faith that D.C. residents support him.
“I have complete trust in the residents of the city,” Catania said. “I sleep like a baby.”