While residents of Washington D.C. already were entitled to claim all of the substantive rights and duties of marriage as domestic partners, the opening up of the marriage door in our nation’s capital has tremendous significance — and not just for those who live in the District. First, the international publicity bestowed on the recent spate of legalized marriages is bound to send a positive message about the “good news” of the D.C. law. Second, the “local” publicity in the District is bound to have ripple effects in the nationally-powerful home of Congress and the Obama administration. And third, the fact that Congress did not even launch any real attempt to stop the new law — which Congress could have done — shows that there is not the obsessional hostility to same-sex marriage that many of our opponents would have thought.
Social and legal change happens in small steps as well as big ones. A Washington Post photo of a same-sex couple kissing each other at their wedding produced a flurry of hostile responses, but chances are the more significant impact was on the thousands of readers who saw the same photo as a “normal” celebratory event. Congressional staffers are likely to be getting married, and certainly will be attending weddings, and administration officials will likely be attending weddings as well. Just as in Mexico City, which recently legalized same-sex nuptials, these events will shift opinions in a myriad of small ways, on an individual level. These changes transcend the rhetoric of politics, and disarm the opposition in powerful ways.
Ted Olson defends marriage rights in the California federal case, and Congress sits back as D.C. legalizes same-sex marriage. There is reason to be hopeful!