December 18, 2009 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay marriage opponents push D.C. DOMA 

Less than three weeks after the D.C. City Council approved legislation in May to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, 33 members of the House of Representatives co-sponsored a bill to ban gay marriage in the District.

As of Tuesday, when the City Council gave final approval of legislation allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in the city, the number of co-sponsors of the House marriage ban bill, known as the D.C. Defense of Marriage Act, had climbed to 61.

“I think it’s very safe to say that something like this won’t pass as a freestanding bill, and it’s not likely to pass at all,” said an aide to House Democratic leaders, who asked not to be identified.

But the aide and other Capitol Hill observers said opponents of same-sex marriage in Congress might try to attach the D.C. DOMA bill to an appropriations measure next year, forcing a vote on gay marriage as the 2010 congressional elections approach.

The one-sentence measure, H.R. 2608, says, “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that in the District of Columbia, for all legal purposes, ‘marriage’ means the union of one man and one woman.”

A similar bill has yet to be introduced in the Senate.

The same-sex marriage bill approved this week by the D.C. Council, the Religious Freedom & Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, is expected to be signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty within the next 10 days. It will then be sent to Capitol Hill to undergo a required 30 legislative day review by Congress.

Capitol Hill observers were speculating this week whether congressional opponents of same-sex marriage would introduce a disapproval resolution to kill the D.C. gay marriage bill or whether they would instead continue to push fZor more co-sponsors of the D.C. DOMA bill.

Since its introduction in May by Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Dan Boren (D-Okla.), the D.C. DOMA was assigned by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to the Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, Postal Service & District of Columbia. Democrats hold a 7-4 majority on the subcommittee, and its chair, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), has supported same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), a strong supporter of same-sex marriage, also is a member of the subcommittee.

Pelosi has said she would oppose any effort by Congress to interfere with a same-sex marriage bill approved by D.C.’s elected home rule government.

The subcommittee’s highest-ranking Republican, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), is an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and one of the co-sponsors of the D.C. DOMA bill.

“At this time, the subcommittee doesn’t have any plans for a hearing or mark-up on H.R. 2608,” said Bruce Fernandez, Lynch’s press spokesperson.

Alisia Essig, press spokesperson for Chaffetz, declined to say whether Chaffetz or other co-sponsors of the D.C. DOMA bill were planning to introduce a separate disapproval resolution seeking to kill the marriage bill approved by the Council this week.

Some congressional observers speculated that Chaffetz and other gay marriage opponents would likely stick with the D.C. DOMA bill because that measure would completely ban same-sex marriage and its recognition in the District. A disapproval resolution aimed at the marriage bill approved this week by the City Council would not remove from the books the law passed by the Council in May recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries. That measure became law in July after it cleared its congressional review without an attempt to overturn it.

The D.C. DOMA bill is not the first measure introduced in Congress to ban gay marriage in the District. The late Rep. Joann Davis (R-Va.) introduced a similar bill in the early 2000s, when Republicans controlled Congress. The failure of Davis and her allies to pass the measure under a GOP-controlled Congress has prompted gay activists to predict that Democrats would succeed in blocking its passage now.

Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance, said he is not surprised that 61 House members have co-sponsored the D.C. DOMA bill.

“We know we have some enemies on the right,” he said. “The Republican caucuses in the House and Senate are extremely right wing. They love to target us. So it’s no surprise that they have 50 or 60” people supporting the bill.

Of the 61 co-sponsors, 57 are Republicans and four, including Boren, are Democrats. The co-sponsor list includes one member each from Virginia and Maryland: Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.).

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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