LGBT rights in the District of Columbia

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Map of USA DC.svg
StatusLegal since 1993
(Legislative repeal)
Gender identityYes
Discrimination protectionsYes, both sexual orientation and gender identity
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsSame-sex marriage since 2010

The establishment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the District of Columbia is a relatively recent occurrence, with the majority of advances in LGBT rights having taken place in the late 20th century and early 21st century. Along with the rest of the country, the District of Columbia recognizes and allows same-sex marriage.[1] The percentage of same-sex households in the District of Columbia in 2008 was at 1.8%, the highest in the nation.[1] This number had grown to 4.2% by early 2015.[2]

The District of Columbia is regarded as very accepting and tolerant of LGBT people and same-sex relationships, with polls indicating that Washingtonians overwhelming support same-sex marriage.[3] The District also explicitly bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and the use of conversion therapy on both minors and adults.[4] Same-sex marriage legislation came into effect in March 2010, granting same-sex couples the right to marry, while domestic partnerships were legalized in 2002.

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity was decriminalized in 1981 but the decision was quickly overturned by the United States Congress.[5] A successful legislative repeal of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual activity followed in 1993.[6]

Under the District of Columbia Home Rule Act 1973, all laws passed by the Council of the District of Columbia and signed by the Mayor, are subject to a mandatory 30-day "congressional review" by the U.S. Congress. Only then after the 30-day congressional review, and if they are not blocked by Congress, that they become effective in the District of Columbia.

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Same-sex domestic partnerships were legalized by the Council in 1992 through the Health Benefits Expansion Act, but the Republican-controlled Congress refused to approve the measure until 2002, when a legislative rider preventing congressional approval of the Act's implementation was not included that year. Afterwards, the domestic partnerships provisions of District law were incrementally expanded.

Same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia was legalized on December 18, 2009, when Mayor Adrian Fenty signed a bill passed by the Council of the District of Columbia on December 15, 2009. Following the signing, the measure entered a mandatory congressional review of 30 work days. Marriage licenses became available on March 3, 2010, and marriages began on March 9, 2010. The District became the only jurisdiction in the United States below the Mason–Dixon Line to allow same-sex couples to marry, until neighboring Maryland legalized same sex marriage on January 1, 2013.

Domestic partnerships for same-sex and opposite-sex couples remain available as an option alongside marriage.[7]

The District has provided benefits to same-sex partners of state employees since 2002.[8]

Adoption and family planning[edit]

Same-sex couples are allowed to legally adopt children. Additionally, they have access to IVF and to commercial and altruistic surrogacy.

On 2 December 2016, a legislative committee passed a bill, in a 9-0 vote, to allow commercial surrogacy contracts for all couples.[9] On 22 December 2016, the Council of the District of Columbia passed the bill in its second reading unanimously by a vote of 13-0.[10] The Mayor of the District of Columbia, Muriel Bowser, signed the bill into law on 15 February 2017.[11] The law went into effect on April 7, 2017, after the 30-day "congressional review" had passed.

Discrimination protections[edit]

Capital Pride is held annually in June.
Participants at the 2018 parade
Participants at the 2018 parade

Sexual orientation and gender identity are both covered as protected classes under the District of Columbia's law.[12]

Moreover, the District's anti-bullying law prohibits bullying on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, intellectual ability, familial status, family responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, genetic information, disability, source of income, status as a victim of an intra-family offense, place of residence or business, any other distinguishing characteristic, and association with a person, or group with any person, with one or more of the actual or perceived foregoing characteristics. The law also explicitly includes cyberbullying and harassment, and applies to every educational institution in the District.[13]

In May 2015, the ban was expended to include LGBT students attending religious schools.[14]

Hate crime law[edit]

The District's hate crime law covers both sexual orientation and gender identity.[15]

Gender identity and expression[edit]

Previously, transgender persons had to undergo sex reassignment surgery to amend their birth certificates.[16] Under the JaParker Deoni Jones Birth Certificate Equality Amendment Act of 2013, transgender persons in the District may obtain new birth certificates that reflect their current gender identity from the city registrar on the basis of a letter from a licensed health care provider, and no longer need to have undergone sex reassignment surgery. The act passed congressional review and took effect on November 5, 2013.[17][18]

In 2015, a bill was introduced to the DC Council to correct the gender of transgender people on death certificates. The bill failed in committee by a vote of 4-6.[19] In 2016, the same bill was introduced by a different member and passed the committee stage by a vote of 9-0.[9] The bill passed its second reading unanimously by a vote of 13-0.[20] The Mayor of the District of Columbia, Muriel Bowser, signed the bill into law on 15 February 2017. The law went into effect on April 7, 2017, after the 30-day "congressional review" had passed.

Since July 1, 2017, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles has offered a third choice for gender on licenses and identification cards: X, designating a neutral or non-binary gender identity.[21] They issued the first ever gender-neutral identification card in the United States to LGBT activist Shige Sakurai, who helped develop the new policy.[22] In September 2018, the D.C. Council unanimously approved a bill codifying the decision of the Department of Motor Vehicles into law.[23]

Conversion therapy[edit]

On December 2, 2014, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to ban sexual orientation change efforts (conversion therapy) on minors. Mayor Vincent C. Gray signed the bill on December 22, 2014.[24][25] The act passed congressional review and took effect on March 11, 2015.[26]

In January 2019, the conversion therapy ban was extended to adults.[27][4] New York City has a similar ban on adults. On January 16, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the ban into law. It is now subject to the 30-day Congress review period.[28][29]

Public opinion and demographics[edit]

A 2013 Williams Institute survey showed that 10% of the D.C. adult population identified as LGBT. This was the highest in the United States.[30]

A 2017 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 78% of D.C. residents supported same-sex marriage, while 17% were opposed and 5% were unsure.[3] Additionally, 84% supported the anti-discrimination law covering sexual orientation and gender identity. 10% were opposed.

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1993)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 1993)
Anti-discrimination laws in every area Yes (Both sexual orientation and gender identity)
Same-sex marriages Yes (Since 2010)
Recognition of same-sex couples Yes (Since 2002)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples Yes
Joint adoption by same-sex couples Yes
Lesbians, gays and bisexuals allowed to serve openly in the military Yes (Since 2011)
Transgender people allowed to serve openly in the military No
Conversion therapy banned Yes (Since 2015 for minors and since 2019 for adults)[31]
Right to change legal gender without surgery Yes
Third gender option Yes
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples Yes
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes/No (1 year deferral period; federal policy)


  1. ^ a b "By the numbers: Same-sex marriage". Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  3. ^ a b PRRI: American Values Atlas 2017, Washington, DC
  4. ^ a b Dillon, Brian (25 January 2019). "Washington DC Becomes First US Territory To Ban Conversion Therapy For Adults".
  5. ^ Grindley, Lucas (2012-08-21). "The 45 Biggest Homophobes of Our 45 Years". Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  6. ^ "D.C. Sodomy Law". 2007-03-08. Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  7. ^ "D.C. Marriage/Relationship Recognition Law". Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  8. ^ National Conference of State Legislatures: "States offering benefits for same-sex partners of state employees", accessed April 16, 2011
  9. ^ a b D.C. Council committee approves 2 LGBT bills
  10. ^ B21-0016 - Collaborative Reproduction Amendment Act of 2015
  11. ^ D.C. Council passes bill to end 25-year ban on surrogacy agreements
  12. ^ "D.C. Non-Discrimination Law". 2007-03-08. Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  13. ^ Washington D.C. Anti-Bullying Laws & Policies This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  14. ^ D.C. LGBT, reproductive rights bills become law
  15. ^ "D.C. Hate Crimes Law". 2007-03-08. Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  16. ^ "D.C. Birth Certificate Law: Gender Identity Issues". 2005-08-31. Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  17. ^ B20-0142
  18. ^ Chibbaro Jr., Lou (July 11, 2013). "Council approves trans birth certificate bill". Washington Blade. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  19. ^ Gender identity ‘death certificate’ bill introduced
  20. ^ B21-0444 - Death Certificate Gender Identity Recognition Amendment Act of 2015
  21. ^ Washington, DC joins Oregon in offering third gender marker on drivers’ licenses
  22. ^ Cooper, Mariah (August 10, 2018). "BACK TO SCHOOL 2018: UMD advocates for trans inclusivity". The Washington Blade.
  23. ^ D.C. Council approves ‘Nonbinary’ I.D. card bill
  24. ^ "D.C. bans gay conversion therapy of minors". Washington Post. December 2, 2014.
  25. ^ B20-0501 - Conversion Therapy for Minors Prohibition Amendment Act of 2013
  26. ^ "D.C. bill banning conversion therapy for minors becomes law". Washington Blade. March 16, 2015.
  27. ^ Moore, Matt (January 27, 2019). "Washington DC becomes the first territory in the US to ban gay 'cure' therapy for adults". Gay Times.
  28. ^ Chibbaro, Lou (January 24, 2019). "Bowser signs conversion therapy ban for adults with disabilities". The Washington Blade.
  29. ^ Bollinger, Alex (December 5, 2018). "D.C. may soon have America's toughest conversion therapy ban". LGBTQ Nation.
  30. ^ LGBT Percentages Highest in Washington, DC, and Hawaii
  31. ^ Dupuis, Adam (January 27, 2019). "D.C. soon To Be First Territory To Ban Conversion Therapy On Adults". Instinct Magazine.