DC COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY AND THE JUDICIARY
Hearing on Bill 18-482
Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Written Testimony of
Senior Fellow, People For the American Way
Ward 5 Resident
Thank you, Chairman Menaelson and members of the committee.
My name is Peter Montgomery. I am a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way, a nationwide organization that mobilizes Americans to promote and protect core constitutional values. I am grateful for the opportunity to testify in support of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Act of 2009 on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Americans from every state and the District of Columbia.
People For the American Way's board of directors endorsed marriage equality for same-sex couples in 1996. Since then, People For and its affiliated Foundation have proudly supported many legal and political efforts to achieve that goal across the country.
The principle at stake is really a simple one: equality under the law. That principle is at the heart of what it means to be an American. It's a vision of the kind of country we want to live in. And it is the energizing value in the effort to win marriage equality.
People For the American Way also champions religious liberty, another core American value. The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Act of 2009 advances both of these constitutional principles. It gives committed same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities under D.C. law that other couples enjoy. And it affirmatively protects the right of every religious denomination and congregation to make their own decisions about which unions to bless.
We believe that some of the opposition to this legislation is based on confusion or misinformation about its impact on preachers and churches. But there is no question that religious liberty can and will be protected under this law. And we respectfully urge the bill's opponents to engage in an honest debate.
The legal discrimination that now exists against same-sex couples is not only a violation of our country's constitutional principles, it is a collective moral failing. Over the years, America has overcome many of its failings thanks to individuals who were willing to take a stand and demand that the nation live up to its ideals.
It is very encouraging that so many members of the D.C. Council are showing that kind of leadership by cosponsoring this legislation, which will put the District of Columbia, the nation's capital city, on the side of the Constitution and on the side of history. We urge its swift passage.
I would also like to speak personally for a moment, as a longtime resident of the District of Columbia, a Ward 5 homeowner and taxpayer, and a man who hopes to marry the man I love.
I came to D.C. in 1980 to go to college and have made it my home. Nine years ago, I had the amazing good fortune of meeting a soul mate. He lived in Chicago at the time, but moved to D.C. in August 2001, less than a month before 9-11. In spite of that scary welcome, he too, has made this city his home, founding an arts organization in our neighborhood and becoming an active member of the literary community in D.C.
When Dan and I fell in love with each other, getting married wasn't even an option. But we have made a full life together, one that includes both our families, a circle of friends and neighbors, and our dog. It's Dan I wake up with every morning and hope to grow old with. We know how fortunate we are to live in a city that values its LGBT citizens, where we can be comfortable living openly as a loving couple. We don't take that for granted.
One day last year, I thought I might be having a heart attack. I went to the hospital near my office to get checked out. It turned out I was fine. But while I was lying there, I couldn't help thinking of every real-life horror story about gay partners denied the chance to be at their loved one's side during a moment of crisis - even people who had done everything right, if you can call it "right" that couples have to carry around a stack of legal documents to prove their relationship. I started to imagine what it would have been like if I were really in trouble, and couldn't have Dan by my side. What would have happened to him, to our house?
I don't want our relationship to be haunted by that kind of question. That's why I asked Dan to marry me. We've thought about going to other places we love, like Massachusetts or Vermont, where same-sex couples are treated equally under the law. But D.C. is our home. We're hoping to get married here sometime next year. I thank you, and all the advocates who have worked so hard over the years, for making it possible for me to make that statement. We're excited about it, and so are our friends and family.
I urge you all to support this legislation. You'll make my mother very happy.