Now that is a “bignorant” sign (bigoted + ignorant), but proponents of same-sex marriage have a bit of good news after a year of numerous defeats. No, Richard Simmons is still gay. Rather, the District of Columbia City Council voted 11-2 to make it legal there. And yesterday, Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the bill, meaning gay couples in Washington could be married come mid-March. (Tasty morsel: one of the two “no” votes came from everyone’s favorite crack fiend ex-Mayor Marion Barry, who is a current council member.)
However, there is a catch. It is not yet law. DC being DC, Congress gets to review all laws passed in the district and evaluate them if it so chooses. USA Today foreshadowed this possibility back in April.
Congress gets 30 legislative working days to act on the bill by enacting what is called a “joint resolution of disapproval.” In layman’s terms: “We really do not care what you autonomously decide is in your own best interest.” Reporters say interference is unlikely, since Congress has “rejected [DC] legislation just three times in the past 25 years.” I went to dig up what those exceptions were, but could not get a definitive return just yet. If anyone has the answers, please share.
So, what other precedent is there for something like this? In 1993, Congress opted not to repeal a law legalizing consensual sodomy, when the balance was also weighted to the Democrats. However, a decade earlier they did reject a similar law. As another barometer of social issue legislation, Washington may legalize medical marijuana use based on the freed-up result of last week’s Senate spending bill that stripped away the ban on that drug.
President Obama would also have to sign the joint resolution for the city law to be blocked. Would he? Despite what many people think or assume, on the record, he is not for gay marriage. If by some chance, a vote got to him, it might be pretty awkward. It would open him up to 2012 wedge issue attacks.
With so many conservative Democrats in Congress (about 80 Democrats elected last year are quite vulnerable, coming from districts where Bush and McCain won in 2004 and 2008, respectively), there is a chance a vote would be close.
I am likely ahead of myself, because the two people with the most control of these procedures, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, would probably never let votes come to the floor.
So, a vote is unlikely, but I feel pretty confident saying that at least one member, if not more, will come out and take the bait and make political hay of this development in the district. It’s the first time they will have a chance to get up on the bully pulpit and lobby against gay marriage with the chance of a vote attached. It’s too tempting and there is no concrete consequence. A Republican from a conservative district will decide to brandish his/her image by making an impassioned plea to the Speaker or Majority Leader to allow this measure to be reviewed, to come to a vote, because it is a travesty of the Constitution or the Bible or some such thing they believe.
Far-fetched? Let’s say you’re a Congressman from South Carolina and coincidentally, also a Republican. Maybe your name is real down home and simple, say, Joe Wilson. You’re prone to yelling inappropriate stuff in front of the entire country, because, hey, it raises you big bucks back in Hilton Head. Your district overwhelmingly and devoutly interprets the Bible to mean marriage is between a man and a woman. Think you might throw in a word?
Or maybe you’re a Senator from Oklahoma, and believe it or not in that state, what are the odds, you too are a Republican. Let’s also say your name happens to be James Inhofe. You love saying things that are somehow not nearly as offensive in your state as they are in the entire Northeast. Unless you had laryngitis, you’d probably go run your mouth in the Senate chamber.
Nonetheless, states’ rights is a principle many conservatives cite to justify issue stances, so how would they reconcile their endorsement of state legislation and votes that have given same-sex marriage a thumbs-down in a majority of states across the country with the initiative to interfere in the nation’s capitol?
Meanwhile, outside of Congress, there is an awkward, tense conflict between the religious African American community and the gay community over this issue. Take Rev. Anthony Evans of Mount Zion Baptist Church, who said, “I’m going to use the full power of the black church to kill this bill. I feel pity for those who voted for this because they have defied the will of God. We have warned them.” Wow. What would Dr. King say?
The fight for gay rights, chief among them marriage, has been branded a modern civil rights struggle and rallied many to the cause, so it is a bizarre, uncomfortable situation to see these two seemingly kindred factions at odds. It’s what many blame for the Proposition 8 outcome in California.
These and other local opponents in DC are trying to put the issue to a ballot referendum of the citizenry. Polls show DC is more liberal than any state in the union, but in a short campaign with organized religion throwing around money and messages, anything could happen.
D.C. City Councilmember David Catania, lead figure behind the bill that passed, rebuffs the idea by saying that these issues should not be left to raw votes of the people, bringing up a DC “referendum in 1865 in which only 36 of the city’s residents voted to extend the franchise to African-American males.” Um, at least it got double chai?
I am among the cadre of commentators who believes the bill will pass into law, but I think there will be some manufactured racket along the way. If these objectors would only take a look at what DCist points out, that gay marriage in DC would bring in millions of dollars in revenue from ceremonies, receptions, and taxes, they’d see good news in a recession. Maybe you’ve heard of green shoots. Well, these are gay shoots.