By ERIN JENKINS
The contributions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals were celebrated on June 9 with the Library’s second annual LGBT Pride Month keynote program, featuring D.C. Council Member David Catania. Barbara Morland, chair of the Library’s Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual Employees (GLOBE) association, opened the event with an expression of gratitude toward Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who also made remarks.
“The purpose of this program is to join in the Library’s tradition of celebrating knowledge, creativity and cultural wisdom and to support the Library’s policy on non-discrimination,” said Billington. He added that the Library of Congress recognizes cultural diversity through the preservation of its extensive collections.
Council Member Catania, an outspoken champion for gay rights, including marriage equality, delivered the keynote address.
“I am mindful that I am in the Library of Congress, and so, I will be a bit more measured in some of my remarks than I normally am,” Catania quipped.
Catania, who has served on the D.C. Council since 1997, is one of its 13 members.
“Some like to refer to us as a very progressive or liberal body,” he said. “I prefer to characterize us as uniquely American, in the sense that we are ideologically committed to equality.”
His biggest victories have included health-care reform, HIV/AIDS treatment availability in the District and reduction of the number of uninsured citizens. The campaign for marriage equality in D.C. was victorious on March 3, 2010, with the passage of legislation making marriage licenses for gays and lesbians in the District a reality.
“This is the nation’s capital, in one of the most important countries in the world, so for us to extend [marriage] equality here, that was huge.”
Riding the tailwind of President Obama’s election, Catania stated his intention to introduce the “Marriage Equality” bill as the first piece of legislation of the new council period that began Jan. 6, 2009.
While some, even in the gay community, said, “Not now,” Catania felt that “not now meant not ever, and it has to be now.” Before long, according to Catania, community leaders went from “the ‘not now’ chorus, to the ‘right now’ chorus.”
He noted that Jan. 6 was historically significant to marriage equality because it marked the 50-year anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia case. Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a black woman, came to Washington, D.C., to get married in 1958 because interracial marriages in their home state were illegal. When they returned home, they were tried and convicted, and banished from Virginia as a married couple for a period of 25 years. They sought refuge in the nation’s capital.
From the timing of its introduction to its passage, “everything about this bill has been carefully managed,” noted Catania.
Catania, who said he has attended more same-sex weddings than he can count, notes that the end result has been good for local businesses.
“Marriage equality has been a great thing here in the District not just from a civil-rights perspective and a human-rights perspective, but it has also been important for our local economy. Just when we needed it the most, we have had a boom in the restaurant, catering and hospitality fields.”
He noted that 367 marriage applications were received in the first two months after the bill’s passage and 2,100 the next two months. The District is set to quadruple its per-capita same-sex marriage rate, outpacing California.
Among the many gay couples taking out marriage licenses in March 2010 was a straight couple who told Catania they waited six years to wed, vowing not to marry “until our friends could.”
“Subsequent emails have confirmed that young people today, whether they are gay or straight, do not want to live in a community where their friends are not their equals.”
“The polling we have done recently confirms that by a wide margin of nearly 20 points, District residents support marriage equality,” said Catania. “We are not just a progressive city, but—profoundly—an American city. What we are doing now is going to lay the foundation for future generations in the District,” said Catania.
“The idea of the rights of our neighbors being put on a ballot is repugnant to me,” said Catania. “But the good news is that if there is an initiative, we will win by a wide margin. If it comes, we will be ready and we will win.”
Erin Jenkins is a special projects coordinator in the Library’s Office of Opportunity, Inclusiveness and Compliance.