City Desk

Behold Harry Thomas Jr.’s Nuanced Position on Same-Sex Marriage Legislation

Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. has been walking a mighty fine line the past couple of weeks.

When you're representing a ward that contains both quickly gentrifying (and gayifying) areas like Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Brookland, in addition to the generally conservative Bungalow Belt and many of the city's most politically active churches, same-sex marriage would be one of those issues you might wish would go away.

Thomas veered heavily to one side of that line when he voted this month to recognize other states' same-sex marriages here in D.C. He leaned even further when the Washington Blade reported last Friday that Thomas was on the record in support of a full gay marriage bill—-a story LL had highlighted in his Friday news roundup.

Leaned too far, perhaps: That afternoon, Thomas spokesperson Victoria Leonard called LL to say the Blade story, by Lou Chibarro Jr., wasn't true. Her boss, she said, wasn't committed either way.

Chibbaro says that he went with his story after Leonard mentioned to him a questionnaire that Thomas had filled out for the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance ahead of his 2006 election. It asked, "Do you support legal recognition of marriages between partners of the same sex?" Thomas replied, "Yes." Leonard told Chibbaro that her boss stood by his response three years later.

"She was very upbeat and definitive," the veteran reporter says. Thomas himself was in Las Vegas for the shopping-centers conference at the time and unavailable for direct comment

Leonard says she indeed told Chibarro that her boss stood by his old line. Giving such an unequivocal response, she says, was a mistake. "I'm not an attorney, and I'm not a councilmember," she tells LL. "As a spokesperson, I'll have to learn to be more careful, especially on tumultuous issues."

LL finally got Thomas himself on the horn yesterday: "That's why I always speak to you guys directly," Thomas says. "My spokesperson's statement was taken out of character a little bit."

OK, fine, unfiltered, straight from the horse's mouth. No confusion, right? Well, see if you can parse these comments from Thomas:

"We're going to have to make sure whatever we do passes the congressional smell test. And so I am looking at how we look at possible referendums and other options where we have a true voice of the people on this issue, to strengthen our position when we go forward."

So you favor a voter referendum, then?

"Well, I want to look at the possibilities of having one...make sure that we as councilmembers ensure we have due process in this whole piece. I think we've gone a long way in a quick period of time, and people need to have input in this process. And I've stuck to my guns about my position on it, but at the same time, we must be open to making sure that the whole citizenry feels like it was engaged in this process."

Stuck to your guns? What guns?

"My position is that, I've supported the equity issues in recognizing what other states have already done, so people would not have those legal issues here in the District of Columbia."

What about the questionnaire?

"I am supportive of that, but again, in defining that support, you have to look at how you get to that point. I think there's legislative [ways] and there's ways through referendums to do it. And so I haven't hedged from my support on the issue. My issue is how you bring others along in a city with such a diverse opinion on it."

Haven't hedged, huh?

"Have you ever seen me hedge? I'm not a hedger, man. That's not in my nature!"

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Q was more translucent than transparent, meaning that some light passes through, but there is a "cloud" in his answers. For equality, "Yes!" No politician would go on the record with their bias in these times stating that they support segregation, sexism, racism or inequality against another person/group. I get that and I think most get that. The cloud occurs in the whole referendum issue. In part, Councilman Thomas said that the whole vote thing was sorta rushed and can backfire now that the people are actually listening and attuned to what is going on.

    In terms of his position and the misspeak of his spokeswoman, the trick is in the questionaire and the questions asked. LL and the Blade questionaire asked his "political opinion" but somehow it is being portrayed as his personal opinion too. The two are mutually exclusive. The other Councilmembers and the Mayor are concerned about his Legislative/political opinion. Pastors, priests, imans, rabbis, etc. and others like myself are concerned about both.

    If I ask you how you feel about something, the answer I want is HOW YOU FEEL, not necessarily what would make the most sense to the populace. Pardon the pun, but politics makes strange bedfellows, so personal opinions can be compromised by political agendas. If he supports gay marriage, it will be consistent and clear in his answers...even with the referendum. Maybe he does support gay marriage and his political training formulated this safe answer. If so, it is not completely clear.

    In any case, the citizens DO have a say. While most of DC is left leaning moderates, I don't expect this issue to polarize the majority. We citizens have other things to be concerned about rather than be caught up in the national media's same sex marriage drama.

  • DCBob

    Which of Harry Thomas' rights does he think should be put up for public vote? Can we vote on his marriage?

  • Q

    That's COLD DCBob (LOL), but puts up an interesting segue, "if there is anyone opposed to the union of..." Nah, I'm not going there, but you see my point.

    As I said before amongst the things Washingtonians really care about, same sex unions/marriages isn't even in the Top 10. Yet all this drama somehow trumps DCPS, budget deficits, crime, street light and plastic bag surcharges, ineffective politicians, etc.

  • Tom

    More importantly has Bloomingdale really become "gayified". Have I been blinded by ultra gentrification that I have missed this. Can someone point me to the bungalow belt (where ever that is).

  • Q

    The Bungelow Belt is east of 13th Street NE in Brookland (think Franklin Street and streets North), parts of Woodridge and North Michigan Park, noted for such architectual structures as, you guessed it Bungelow style homes. In other words the older DC Homes with residents with at least 40 years of history.

  • Mike DeBonis

    Not saying that Bloomingdale has turned into Dupont Circle circa 1982, but the demographic trends are clear. The Bungalow Belt would include northern Brookland, Michigan Park, and Woodridge. For a tour, drive down South Dakota Avenue NE from Riggs Road to Bladensburg Road.

  • Tom

    Hmmm, Brookland sounds nice. Bloomingdale I have loved you for 25 years, but its time to go the Brookland lol. Funny thing is I am actually moving from Bloomingdale to Brookland to downsize my house which is way to big for 2 people. No matter as long as a can vote against Harry Thomas, and every other elected official in Ward 5 as always, I'll be happy!

    LL is this "Victoria Leonard" the same Vicky Leonard Chambers. Who i despise as a tool since she went drunk with power as my ANC member?

  • Joel Lawson

    "Yet all this drama somehow trumps DCPS, budget deficits, crime, street light and plastic bag surcharges..."

    I support the bag surcharge measure, retooling our schools, fixing street lights, addressing crime, and so much more, yet I also would like my full rights as a resident of the District, and as an American citizen, if that's alright with you, Q. And if you want drama, how about someone being kept from visiting their partner or child in the hospital, or struggling with cancer sans their partner's health insurance coverage, or many other inequities with real impact upon real lives? So, you be real careful in stating, on my behalf, "things Washingtonians really care about."

  • Wrack

    Come on, Tommy... stop being a wuss and just support the damn bill.

  • Downtown Rez

    But Joel, chewing gum and walking AT THE SAME TIME???
    Are we really ready for THAT??

  • Q

    Joel, I appreciate your sentiments and your passion. I have heard the arguments before regarding hospitals, children, etc. I think you should be able to visit them and not be held to a legal interpretation of "next of kin".

    However, making a marriage bill only adds more legality on top of more legality. Regardless of legislation, marriage is/was always designed to be a SPIRITUAL covenant with God first. It became legalized when disputes over the dowries (property), divorce, and women owning property (after the husband dies) came into play. Sexist as it was, legalization didn't have to happen if folks really understood it to be a covenant (divine agreement), instead of a contract where loopholes could be found.

    This isn't a doom-and-gloom-Soddom-and-Gomorrah-you're-going-to-hell rant. I'm simply saying that if I had to choose between a SPIRITUAL covenant (what God recognizes) and a legal contract (what Man recognizes), I'd have to choose the former. Which really is why this isn't such a big issue as folks are making it out to be. I'm not bent out of shape about it because whether men/men, women/women, can legally marry is not for me to decide. People will do what they want to do, legally or illegally, but in the end we ALL will have to be accountable for our lives.

  • Q

    One more thing...the reason I am comfortable with the generalizations, is that if you take away the Rabid Ultra Right Wing protesters and whiny Liberal pro-GLBT lobby, what you have left is a group of people who just assumed be left alone to fight for things that affect all of us. Yes, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere, but I don't see folks protesting to repeal Divorce.

    Yes 40+ years ago this country was at a crossroads over CIVIL RIGHTS. A nice term coined to placate the Segregation and Racist practices since this country's inseption. Many Civil Rights Bills passed, but I tell you that racism and segregation are thriving today. I recently read in a little town in Georgia that they still have separate proms, one for the white students, and another for the black students. What I'm saying is that a BILL won't make you EQUAL. You have to operate in a spirit of EQUALITY to begin with.

    Why fight in to be a part of this "heterosexual" designed concept of marriage. Why not make up your own and be done with it.

  • Joel Lawson

    I appreciate your approach here too Q, for what it really is: a blasé ramble that seems to have no correlation whatsoever to the civic or legal processes in our city and nation.

    There is no "legality on to of more legality" in a measure that would simply extend the rights of marriage to all District residents. There is no abrogation of your precious (and alleged) historical status of marriage as a "SPIRITUAL covenant with God first" -- churches will be free to avoid performing ceremonies if they wish, while others (including the LGBT congregations in our city) will be able to bestow their blessing. Atheists will still be allowed to marry, as they are today.

    Heck, Britany Spears will still have any of her, ahem, "SPIRITUAL covenants" in the future automatically respected by law when she crosses into the District.

  • Q

    Joel, yes it is true regarding us heterosexuals who can't get marriage right even with legality. So are you saying that the GLBT community has come to "perfect" God's creation? :) Sorry for the sarcasm, but since this is a blog-dialog, I feel I have license to put that out there.

    Speaking of license, the legality on top of more legality begins, for example with licensing "celebrants" etc. to perform marriages. Can one be grandfathered in, or is there a correspondence course one can take to properly marry GLBT persons? Premarital counseling will take on a different form. Adoption forms have to be changed from husband/wife/mother/father to spouse#1/spouse#2/parent#1/parent#2, etc. What I'm saying in my "blasé' ramble" juxtaposed with Harry Thomas' luke-warm support is -- whatever the GLBT perform as a union, why call it marriage or even marriage-like? It would be far easier to legislate something new than to modify something old.

    If DC doesn't do what CA did with Proposition 8, I don't expect the sky to rain fire with God's disapproval, for God never takes away our ability to choose. However, what I do see happening is that an agenda will continue to be pushed until it pales into comparison with equality, but transforms into "special rights".

    BTW, nice touch on Atheist marriage...once again it proves my point. Atheists or Agnostics don't bother with a church, synagogue, mosque, etc. They make their union a LEGAL one instead of a Spiritual one.

  • Joel Lawson

    You persist on the "can't chew gum and walk at the same time" path by warning us that, for Heaven's sake, the text on some city forms may have to be changed.

    And you suggest this and other dire snags give rise to your concern that "an agenda will continue to be pushed until it pales into comparison with equality, but transforms into 'special rights'."

    I am quite familiar by now with the code words of ignorance and discrimination, and recognize them here.

  • Joel Lawson

    and PS: a ballot box isn't the place to get your church on.

  • Q

    Ha Ha. Joel, you are getting a little upset, so let me tone it down for you. Your insults aside, you still are missing the point. Changing forms, licensure, and even the process, WON'T CHANGE PEOPLE'S MINDS!!! You CANNOT legalize people's thoughts! You can't legalize RESPECT and ACKNOWLEGEMENT of your "marital" choices. And unfortunately as it stands from the declining majority, being GLBT is a choice, not a birthright, etc.

    I'm not saying this to be saying it, I'm trying to prepare you for the onslaught should this go to ballot. Do you sincerely think as progressive as IOWA was that their marriage/partner bill still doesn't have fallout? What I'm saying is...Heck, let the Bill pass, let all GLBTs flock to DC and get "married". When it is all said and done, the ONLY thing they will have is a piece of paper based on some contrived legality of a union. Why let a heterosexual concept define who you are and what you have? Once again, why do you need a piece of paper to consummate your partnership, contract, etc.? You don't! You don't need it to buy a house, car, credit card, get health insurance (at least with the major carriers in this area), etc.

    This discourse has gone too far, so I'm going to close the loop here. Obviously, by your insults you feel that I'm not accepting of your kind. An inference that is far from the truth. First, church in itself is the actual believer, fellowshipped with others. It is not a building or even a denomination. So, I "get my church on" through the sincere belief that we are all created equal (not just limited to "under the law" as this country would say") and called for a Divine purpose. As a single entity church, I want the best that God would have for you. And I honestly don't see the marriage issue as helping the overall cause of being accepted as you are. Not that you even give a d*mn about how other people feel, but honestly, that is what's stifling this discussion. And what causes folks to use the "discriminatory" speech of "special rights".

    Case in point, I spent quite a bit of time in a major MidWestern city the 90's in which equality per "special rights" was being debated on. In this city's attempts to "perfect" anti-discrimination (hate crime) law against GLBTs, they in part almost created "special rights" by extending the statute around a certain population demographic. All the legalese and language severely hampered the intentions of the original bill. The bill was defeated at the time, because quite frankly, equality wasn't achieved and too vague. It wasn't by ignorance or discrimination that these "code words" were used. It was because the Bill left TOO MUCH to interpretation.

    I've said my peace. I wish you well. Don't have an ill-feeling or thought about you. Just want you to know that one should be careful what they wish for, and all that glitters is not gold.

  • Joel Lawson

    Eegads, more patronizing low-rent sociological gibberish.

    Keep arguing for why you believe I do not need plain equity under the law. Keep offering pointless sociological rhetoric in addressing a legislative juncture regarding equity...

    ...without having read the law. Without acknowledging the discrimination in housing, health insurance, pension benefits, and other vital impacts upon gay couples today (heck, you flatly state that such discrimination simply doesn't exist).

    You are flatly unaware of the inequities out there that give rise to the need for a policy change. It's that change we're after, it's that change we'll one day achieve. As for moving minds, we'll keep working on that too. Again with the chew gum and walk thing.

  • Q

    Good Lord Joel, your energies are being wasted conversing with me. I am well aware of the discrimination in housing, health insurance, and other circumstances that affect HETEROSEXUAL couples, let alone HOMOSEXUAL ones. If you think passing a marriage bill will single-handedly eradicate all of that, I will be the first to admit my error and even walk down to City Hall and gladly sign up as a witness to your wedding. What I've been saying, at least for 4 posts now (must be a record for an article) is that the BILL is not what it is cracked up to be. It will be symbolic...yes, but will not have the TEETH to legislate REAL EQUALITY. If you want the Bill simply to use as a stepping stone, be my guest. But the reality of it is that slowly but surely the alliance (sans Barry) you had in the City Council is eroding. Each week more and more COUNCILPERSONS are suggesting putting this out to a vote. Barry was just the first proponent for the vote, by voting against it. Thomas (remember him, who this article is about) and now Bowser and Alexander are back-pedaling. Catania and Graham won't be able to hold the line for long.

    The POLICY change you seek is multi-faceted and sorry one ceremonial bill won't do it. Laws need to be changed, augmented, etc. but more importantly, to usher such change, folk's attitudes need to be changed as well. The populace doesn't hear the inequalities in Housing, Health Insurance, etc. All they hear is what the media has been feeding them. And you know what that is... Those 'folks' in CA, NY, and DC trying to get the right to marry each other like us 'normal' folks. It is that Joel, which is causing the collapse of your platform. Yes...the MARRIAGE issue. Most reasonably minded folks (note the adjectives) would say that fair housing, health insurance, pension benefits, etc. should be given to, white, brown, man, woman, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, disabled, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Atheist, etc. FAIR Housing, etc. is mutually exclusive to marriage. Yet, the prevailing argument I keep hearing, even from you is that by granting same-sex marriages, everything will be miraculously EQUAL! RUBBISH!

    Finally, before you charge off into left field saying I'm "flatly unaware", let me tell you that I know firsthand the discriminatory practices of lenders, and as a result was able to capitalize on an investigation and judgment handed down by DOJ. I CAN walk and chew gum simultaneously. I just ask you to get another stick as the one you've been chewing has gotten old and have loss its taste!

  • Joel Lawson

    "If you think passing a marriage bill will single-handedly eradicate all of that, I will be the first to admit my error and even walk down to City Hall and gladly sign up as a witness to your wedding."

    Force of law does help to prevent, and adjudicate, discrimination. If you cannot appreciate that the needle moves, at all, then I'm talking to a wall.

    And failure of a bill to address all sociological misinformation is no argument for subjecting the rights of any minority to a vote of the majority.

    And if you're actually suggesting that Graham and Catania will support a referendum, then we've all been given a lesson in your powers of political analysis.

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