Marriage Bill Chafes Very Few

Posted May 6, 2009 at 6:26pm

The D.C. Council has dropped gay marriage on Congress’ doorstep — yet Members seem slow to react.

On Tuesday, the Council overwhelmingly passed a bill paving the way for the District of Columbia to officially recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Under the District’s home rule charter, Congress has 30 legislative days to review the Council’s bill. If Members do nothing, it automatically passes into law; if both chambers vote to strike it down, it disappears.

So far, few Members have indicated they will try to block it.

House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.), for example, steered clear of the issue.

Asked if he expected Republicans to try to block the D.C. bill from becoming law, McCotter said, “Right now I’m thinking about the auto industry.—

But several Republicans used the opportunity to speak out against gay marriage.

Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said conservative lawmakers discussed the D.C. bill during a Wednesday meeting and “believe strongly that the American people don’t support this.—

He said he expected conservative Members would highlight the Defense of Marriage Act in the coming weeks.

“What one state may want to do offline does not necessarily mean that everybody else has to recognize it,— Price said. “It’s an anathema to the vast majority of the American people.—

Though Congress can overturn D.C. legislation during the 30-day review period, it rarely takes advantage of that power. More often, Members use amendments to change the law.

For example, Republican lawmakers effectively banned needle exchange programs in D.C. for a decade by inserting language into a budget bill. More recently, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) inserted an amendment that would strike down D.C.’s gun laws into the Senate’s version of the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act.

But while gay marriage is just as controversial as needle exchange and guns, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) expressed confidence that Members wouldn’t try to overturn the new bill.

“While it is always wise to be strategic on matters that come before Congress, I do not believe that a serious attempt to overturn the Council bill will be made or would be successful,— she said in a statement.

Indeed, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made clear on Wednesday that she had no desire to wade into the issue, drawing a parallel to a similar law passed in New York last year.

“I don’t think the Congress should intervene there in terms of their recognitions of marriages in states that allow them any more than we should intervene in New York,— she told reporters at her weekly press conference.

Freshman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) stands alone in promising action, telling several media outlets that this issue is “worth fighting for.—

But city officials, citing the Democratic majority, claim they aren’t overly concerned that Congressional opponents will successfully block the bill.

Furthermore, unlike most D.C. legislation, the bill affects constituents of those states where gay marriage is legal, said Jason Shedlock, chief of staff to Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D).

Mendelson, who sponsored the bill, hopes “Congressional meddling— will be “kept to a minimum,— Shedlock said.

“In a situation like this, if Congress chooses to overturn what the District has done it not only affects the District, but it also negatively affects other states,— he said.

Maine is the fifth state to legalize gay marriage, after its governor signed a bill approving the practice on Wednesday. Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa also allow gay marriage, while Vermont’s law will take effect in September.

Tory Newmyer contributed to this article.