Recalling the fight for DC marriage equality

The people of Washington were our bedrock

By Richard J. Rosendall

Amanda Michelle Gomez of Washington City Paper recently sent the following inquiry to Mattachine Society of Washington:

“I am writing a story about D.C. statehood. I wanted to fact check something I’ve heard and read. Is it true that D.C. Council offered same-sex partners benefits in 1992 through the Health Benefits Expansion Act, but Congress disapproved via a budget rider until 2002. I’ve also read it as D.C. Council legalizing gay marriage but did not know it went that far? Any clarity would be greatly appreciated!”

Mattachine President Charles Francis forwarded the request to me as a Mattachine Board Member because I had worked on the issue for years. I replied:


Your information regarding the Health Benefits Expansion Act is correct. There is a good writeup on it in a Wikipedia article:

The DC Council enacted civil marriage equality on December 15, 2009. It took effect on March 3, 2010 following the requisite congressional review period. Prior to that, the strategy of local advocates, led by GLAA, was to expand the rights and responsibilities of same-sex couples through domestic partnership. This was necessitated by the control over the District wielded by Congress, and the fact that the LGBTQ community was historically a target of congressional scapegoating via appropriations riders. This was a particular sore point not only because of the injustice of discrimination but because District residents pay federal taxes without having voting representation in Congress.

GLAA and its allies pursued equality by a years-long effort of education, policy development, and incremental legislative advances. Thus we established the reality of our families, to make it clear that we were not seeking the right to form families—we were already doing it without permission—but the legal recognition of them and the enactment of protections that other families took for granted. With every year that passed, more citizens in our diverse city supported our cause.

One of the unifying aspects of the fight was the widespread resentment by District residents of Congressional interference in our affairs. Right-wing organizations from outside the District tried to exploit our differences to divide the people of the city and prevent marriage equality. They found a few local allies, but those efforts never succeeded, thanks to the good people of Washington. That was not only because the District is a progressive city, but because the LGBTQ community was an active, visible part of the city from the outset of Home Rule in the early 1970s. The scaremongering by a handful of homophobic ministers therefore never took hold; indeed, a diverse group of affirming clergy organized “D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality.”

Our opponents tended to treat the faith community as monolithically opposed to gay rights, but our community was diverse and had allies in every faith tradition. As we educated the public on this, we also stressed that the marriage equality bill was not designed to interfere with religious organizations’ teachings or practices. We were enacting civil marriage equality, not telling any minister or house of worship what to preach or whom to accept or what sacrament to perform. Those rights of course were already enshrined in the First Amendment, but we needed to stress it because of the disinformation promulgated by our opponents who were trying to scare people.

I am a native Washingtonian, and my pride in my city is renewed every time I think of how thoroughly our opponents were defeated thanks to the broad-based alliances and mutual respect of the citizens of the District. That respect was reflected in the D.C. Council and other elected officials.

I hope this has been helpful.

Rick Rosendall

Former president

Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington

Mindy Daniels, former GLAA president, writes:

“I led this one at the time for GLAA.  What happened was that the Act was going to be “defunded”.  So I got creative and Jeff Coudriet, my VP, created a registration form. A few minutes before defunding just before midnight Ernie Evans, her LGBT aide and my buddy, arrived at Mayor Kelly’s residence and she was handed an executive order I asked her to sign that said you can register with this form by return receipt certified mail.  Your return receipt was proof of registration. This was so that they could not defund hospital visitation if domestic partners so that took effect immediately even though the rest was defunded. They threw the registrations received in a drawer on their end because they could not spend one penny on it. But at least we got the hospital visitation part that was a big problem at the time and relief to many during AIDS as well as other illnesses.” 

Members of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, circa 2006. Included in the photo are (L-R) Bob Summersgill, Christopher Neff, Craig Howell, Frank Kameny, Cartwright Moore, Barrett Brick, Kevin Davis, and Rick Rosendall. Image credit: MetroWeekly


1. “A Timeline of Marriage Equality,” June 2013,

2. “Lessons From D.C. Marriage Equality Victory,” December 2013,

3. “GLAA Announces Awardees,” March 2010,

4. “Ghosts in the Courtroom,” March 2015,

5. GLAA’s OutHistory entry, April 2010,


Accolades and special thanks go to the following leaders who led the way to marriage equality in the District:

Former GLAA President Bob Summersgill

Rick Rosendall, DC gay activist and GLAA member

Former GLAA President, Washington, D.C. attorney Mindy Daniels, for legal research

Phil Mendelson, now Chairman of the Council of the District of Columbia (then chair of the DC Council’s Judiciary Committee)

Mark Levine, then Of Counsel to the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club (now the Capital Stonewall Democratic Club); Levine now represents the 45th District in the Virginia House of Delegates and is a candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia

Cornelius Baker, served as team leader in working with Democratic Party political strategist Celinda Lake on voter research

Sultan Shakir, then a regional field director for the Human Rights Campaign, strategic savvy