The Gay Marriage Debate, Live From D.C.

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A reader sent this note to me. It offers a portrait of the sort dialogue that's going unreported in the city:

I was at a meeting of the Ward 4 Dem's last night in Washington, D.C., where residents had a passionate but respectful conversation about marriage equality (with both sides voicing their views) and two of DC's Council Members (Ward 4's Councilmember Muriel Bowser and at-large Councilmember Phil Mendelson) discussing their votes, before the room passed a resolution advocating support for FULL marriage quality (not just the "out-of-state" provision passed this week) by a vote of 36 to 6.

Ward 4 is one of the most diverse wards in the city, and it is very representative demographically (racially, ethnically and socio-economically) of the city as a whole. I think that the tenor of the room last night suggests that the apocalyptic threats of Councilmember Barry and his cadre of suburban Maryland ministers may be exaggerated. (After living in D.C. for more than 20 years, I have seen the many faces of Marion Barry, so nothing he does really is surprising.) Even if he thinks that he is representing the views of the voters of Ward 8 (who I will concede generally are different from those in other wards in the city), I think that Council Member Barry is getting it wrong. 

I will agree with other writers to your BLOG that D.C. is in many ways a Southern city, and its politics are impacted by the fact that it remains a majority-African American city. But D.C. residents are some of the most politically educated and progressive in the United States. Certainly we saw last night that Barry does NOT speak for African Americans city-wide. Councilmember Bowser succinctly and eloquently described her support of marriage equality is a simple matter of justice. And Ward 4 Dem Chairperson Deborah Royster shared a rather poignant story from her childhood about her family being refused lodging in a Virginia hotel because of racial segregation, saying that that experience of discrimination was etched into her memory and that she cannot stand by and condone other forms of discrimination.

I am more optimistic than I was prior to meeting with my Ward 4 neighbors. I think - with some good grassroots outreach throughout the city - we can win this fight, even in Barry's backyard. The question is whether outside forces will allow DC residents to have this dialogue without their interference. I am less optimistic about that.

That last sentence is key. The history of bigots meddling in D.C.'s affairs is extensive and stretches back nearly 100 years. Then it was white supremacy. Now it's anti-gay bigotry. Anyone interested in reading up on the story of how Southern racists lorded over D.C. for years should check out Dream City by Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood. It's indispensable to understanding why a city would re-elect a man caught on tape smoking crack.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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