Ward 8 Democrats Vote in Support of Gay Marriage

Naira Ruiz | 5/20/2009, 3:15 p.m.

The Ward 8 Democrats passed a resolution in support of same sex marriage in the District, with a final vote of 21 in favor and 11 opposed. The voting took place on Sat., May 16 at the Washington Highlands Library in Southwest.

Legislation on gay marriage in the District is expected to be introduced in the D.C. Council later this year.

The same-sex marriage issue brought out more than 80 attendees, including residents from other wards. Several gay rights advocates attended the meeting to voice their support for the resolution.

Speaking in favor of the resolution were Philip Pannel, a Ward 8 Democratic State Committeeman, and the Rev. Dennis Wiley, a pastor at Covenant Baptist Church in Southwest.

€Our government and society devalue and dehumanize same gender relationships by labeling them immoral and not worthy of recognition and benefits,€ Pannel said.

Pannel said he was the first openly gay African American man in the country to be appointed to a municipal human rights panel.

€For our society to continue to discriminate against people because of how they were born is unfair, unjust and profoundly inhumane. I did not reach adulthood and one day decide that I would become gay,€ he said.

Wiley opened his speech with the quote by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and believes the late civil rights leader would have supported same sex marriage if he were alive today.

€As an admirer of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I have arrived at my position on same-sex marriage not because I think it is safe, or popular but because I believe it is right,€ Wiley said.

Speaking against the resolution was the Rev. Patrick J. Walker, senior pastor of The New Macedonia Baptist Church in Southeast. Walker was recently selected to communicate the stance of the Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference on the gay marriage issue.

€The position of the Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference is not to cast stones. We are not homophobic. We are not hatemongers. We love everybody,€ Walker said.

Walker said the Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference believed D.C. residents should make the decision on gay marriage, not the City Council.

€You can have a same sex union but to try to camouflage a word that€s called €marriage€ that has such meaning, I think is very dishonest,€ said Ward 8 resident Calvin Lockridge, 76.

Councilmember Marion Barry was scheduled to speak against the resolution, but couldn€t make it due to a doctor's appointment. Despite his absence, he was mentioned several times due to his recent statements on gay marriage.

€Don€t tell me how you loved us in the past. I feel just like Janet Jackson. What have you done for me lately?€ Pannel said in regards to Barry€s statement that he has historically been for gay rights, but decided not to vote for pro-gay legislation after he spoke with his constituents.

According to Wiley, Barry€s statement showed €his decision was more a matter of politics than of conscience.€

For Jeffrey Richardson, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and Ward 6 resident, the African American community needs to have more frank conversations about sexuality.

€We haven€t been able to have open conversation and dialogue about sexuality in our community,€ said Richardson, 30.

O.V. Johnson, a Ward 8 resident who€s been married for 53 years, said he took offense to equating gay marriage with traditional marriage.

€I think it€s demeaning for all of us, who over many years have bought into the traditions and customs of a man and woman being married,€ Johnson, 74, said.

Whether or not same sex marriage will one day be legal in the District remains uncertain. For some, Saturday€s vote to pass the resolution by the Ward 8 Democrats was a threat to the traditional family while others viewed it as a sign of hope. The vote was particularly inspiring for Michael Crawford, chair and founder of D.C. for Marriage.

The vote, €shatters the myth that African American people are anti-gay and that they won€t support marriage equality for gay people,€ Crawford, 41, said.