Same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia, (Washington, D.C.) was legalized on December 18, 2009, when mayor Adrian Fenty signed a bill passed by the Council of the District of Columbia on December 15, 2009. Following the signing the measure entered a mandatory Congressional review of 30 work days. Marriage licenses became available on March 3, 2010, and marriages began on March 9, 2010.[1] The District became the only jurisdiction in the United States below the Mason–Dixon Line to allow same-sex couples to marry.[2]

In addition to recognizing same-sex marriages, since 1992 the District has also allowed residents to enter into registered domestic partnerships; since the passage of the Domestic Partnership Judicial Determination of Parentage Act of 2009, the District recognizes civil unions and domestic partnerships performed in other jurisdictions that have all the rights and responsibilities of marriage. The law gives the mayor discretion to recognize relationships from states with lesser benefits.[3][4]

Domestic partnerships

Domestic partnership in the District is open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. One of the unusual features of the original bill establishing domestic partnerships was that it allowed partnerships to be created between people who were related by blood (e.g., siblings or a parent and adult child, provided both were single). All couples registered as domestic partners are entitled to the same rights as family members and spouses to visit their domestic partners in the hospital and jail and to make decisions concerning the treatment of a domestic partner’s remains and estate after the partner’s death.[5]

The measure also grants District of Columbia government employees rights to a number of benefits. Domestic partners are eligible for health care insurance coverage, can use annual leave or unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a dependent child or to care for a domestic partner or a partner's dependents, and can make funeral arrangements for a deceased partner.[5]

Legislative history

The original bill establishing Domestic Partnerships in the District of Columbia was known as "The Health Benefits Expansion Act." It was passed by the City Council and signed into law by the Mayor of Washington, D.C. The bill became law on June 11, 1992. Every year between 1992 and 2002, the Republican leadership of the U.S. Congress added a rider to the District of Columbia appropriations bill that prohibited the use of federal or local funds to implement the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act.[6] The law was finally implemented in fiscal year 2002 after Congress failed to add the rider to the appropriations bill.[7]

Since the 2002 implementation of domestic partners, the benefits attached to Domestic Partnerships has been expanded many times. In the Health Care Decisions Act of 2003 domestic partners were given the right to make health care decisions for their partners.[5] The Deed Recordation Tax and Related Amendments Amendment Act of 2004 provided equal treatment, like spouses, of domestic partners for the purpose of paying the deed recordation tax.[5] Expanding benefits further, the Department Of Motor Vehicles Reform Amendment Act Of 2004 exempted domestic partners from the excise tax payable for transfer of title to your partner. And the Domestic Partnership Protection Amendment Act of 2004 amended the definition of the term "marital status" in the Human Rights Act of 1997 to include domestic partners.[5]

The Domestic Partnership Equality Amendment Act of 2006 was a major expansion of the benefits of domestic partners. The law came into effect on April 4, 2006. This act provides that in almost all cases a domestic partner will have the same rights as a spouse regarding inheritance, probate, guardianship, and certain other rights traditionally accorded to spouses. The act also gave the right to form premarital agreements for prospective partners, and for domestic partners to not testify against their partner in court. However, it does not extend most benefits of legal marriage to domestic partners, such as the marital estate tax deduction.[5] At the time of this latest expansion coming into effect in April 2006, there were 587 registered couples.[8]

The District of Columbia Council and Mayor of Washington, D.C., once again, incrementally expanded the domestic partnership rights when in March 2007, the right to jointly file local taxes as domestic partners became law with the passage of the Domestic Partnerships Joint Filing Act of 2006.[9]

On May 6, 2008, the District of Columbia city council unanimously passed the Omnibus Domestic Partnership Equality Amendment Act of 2008. According to the Washington Blade, "the bill provides both rights and obligations for domestic partners in a total of 39 separate laws that touch on such areas as rental housing, condominiums, real estate transactions, nursing homes, life insurance, worker’s compensation, investigations into child abuse and the police department’s musical band, among other areas," thus "bringing the law to a point where same-sex couples who register as domestic partners will receive most, but not quite all, of the rights and benefits of marriage under District law."[10]

On May 20, 2009 the Domestic Partnership Judicial Determination of Parentage Act 2009 passed and signed into law allowing DC recognition of other states domestic partnerships and amends DC laws on parentage entitlements and rights to children from adult domestic partnerships.[11] The proposed law became effective from July 20, 2009.[12]

On March 25, 2010, during the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 debate, the U.S. Senate defeated an attempt by Utah Senator Bob Bennett[13] to "suspend the issuance of marriage licenses to any couple of the same sex until the people of the District of Columbia have the opportunity to hold a referendum or initiative on the question".[14]

Same-sex marriage

Recognition of out-of-state marriages

On April 7, 2009, the same day that Vermont legalized same-sex marriage, the council voted unanimously (12-0) to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.[15] The move was hailed as a possible gateway to legislation of same-sex marriage in the near future.[16] Under the District's procedures, the bill was voted on again on May 5, 2009, passing with a 12-1 vote.[17] The act was signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty and was subject to a review period, which expired on July 7, 2009 at 12:01am.

On June 13, the Board of Elections ruled that a petition seeking to repeal the 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 which specifically disallow the public voting against several protected classes - one being, sexual orientation.

On June 30, 2009, a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled against a group opposed to the new law, who wanted a referendum on the issue, and had also asked the Court to delay the enactment of the new law until the court decided the full case, and also allowed the voters to weigh in. The group had filed with the Court 3 weeks after the passage of the new law, Judge Judith E. 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.[18]

Religious Freedom And Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act 2009

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.[19][20]

On 17 November, the D.C. Board of Ethics and Elections rejected a proposed ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage,[21] saying that the proposed ballot measure "authorizes discrimination prohibited under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act."[22]

On December 1, 2009 the act passed by a vote of 11-2 on its first reading. The second reading was voted on December 15, 2009 where the measure was again passed by a vote of 11-2. The bill received the mayor's signature one week later and had to survive a 30-day congressional review period before becoming law.[23] It was considered unlikely that the law would be overturned;[24] and the District government estimated that the law would take effect on March 3, 2010.[25] Marriage licenses became available on March 3, 2010.[1]

Legal challenges

Bishop Harry Jackson, the pastor of Hope Christian Church, sued the District after the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics refused to approve a ballot initiative on the issue of same-sex marriage. The Board stated that such an initiative would violate D.C.'s Human Rights Act. In January 2010, the D.C. Superior Court upheld the board's decision.[26]

On May 4, 2010, the D.C. Court of Appeals held a hearing on an appeal of D.C. Superior Court decision, that the D.C. voters should have been allowed to vote on the issue of same-sex marriage. Attorneys for D.C. argued that D.C. Council acted within District laws in voting on and eventually passing the legislation. The D.C. Court of Appeals is expected to issue a decision in the summer of 2010.[27]

Economic impact

A UCLA study concluded that extending marriage to same-sex couples will boost the District of Columbia’s economy by over $52.2 million over three years, which would generate increases in local government tax and fee revenues by $5.4 million and create approximately 700 new jobs.[28]

See also

  • LGBT rights in the District of Columbia

States with legal same-sex marriage


  1. 1.0 1.1 Gresko, Jessica. "Same-sex marriage becomes legal in DC", Associated Press, Google News, March 3, 2010. Retrieved on March 3, 2010. Archived from the original on March 3, 2010. 
  3. Associated Press. "Washington, D.C., Recognizes Same-Sex Marriages", New York Times, July 7, 2009. Retrieved on 1 December 2009. 
  4. Gaynair, Gillian. "Gay Marriage Bill Takes Effect in Nation's Capital", Christian Broadcasting Network, July 7, 2009. Retrieved on 1 December 2009. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Domestic Partnership. DC Department of Health, Vital Records Division. Retrieved on 2007-07-30.
  6. CitizenLink: Amendment Would Mean No Money to D.C. Domestic-Partner Registry
  7. D.C. Domestic Partnership Program. Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved on 2008-05-15.
  8. "Registration for Domestic Partnership", Partners Task Force for Gay and Lesbian Couples. Retrieved on 2007-07-30. 
  9. GLAA celebrates as new domestic partnership joint filing law takes effect. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington. Retrieved on 2008-05-15.
  10. Chibbaro, Lou. "D.C. Council expands DP law", Washington Blade, 2008-05-16. Retrieved on 2008-05-17. 
  14. TEXT OF AMENDMENTS -- (Senate - March 23, 2010)
  15. JURY AND MARRIAGE AMENDMENT ACT OF 2009. DC City Council. Retrieved on 1 December 2009.
  16. DC recognizes foreign gay marriages
  17. D.C. Gay Marriage Measure Set for Mayor's Signature
  18. Washington Post
  19. DC Councilman introduces same-sex marriage bill.
  21. "No Measure to Ban Gay Marriage", The New York Times, November 18, 2009. Retrieved on May 22, 2010. 
  24. "D.C. mayor signs same-sex marriage bill", CNN, December 18, 2009. Retrieved on December 18, 2009. 
  25. Alexander, Keith L.. "D.C. marriage bureau preparing for crush of same-sex couples", Washington Post, March 2, 2010. Retrieved on 2 March 2010. 
  26. Evans, Markham. "Appeals Court Weighs D.C. Gay Marriage Challenge", ABC 7 News, 2010-05-04. Retrieved on 2010-05-05. 
  27. Human Rights Campaign Backstory Blog
  28. The Economic Impact of Extending Marriage to Same-Sex Couples in the District of Columbia (PDF). The Williams Institute. UCLA School of Law (April 2009).

External links

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