February 3, 2010 at 10:27 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Senate bill would force D.C. marriage referendum

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Nine U.S. senators have agreed to introduce a bill that would prohibit D.C. from allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in the city until voters are allowed to decide the issue through a referendum or initiative.

The National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, issued a statement Tuesday announcing the senators’ plans to introduce the legislation in the next few days. The statement says the bill will be similar to the one introduced last month in the House by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

“An out-of-control city council tried to do an end run around the D.C. Charter, refusing to recognize the rights of D.C. voters to file an initiative petition on marriage,” said NOM Executive Director Brian Brown in the statement, which urges same-sex marriage opponents to call on Congress to pass the bill.

“Regardless of where your representatives stand on same-sex marriage, tell them that we ought not to stand for this sort of government abuse against the residents of the nation’s capital,” Brown said in the statement.

A same-sex marriage bill passed by the D.C. City Council and signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty in December is undergoing its required congressional review. Most political observers predict that Democratic leaders in the House and Senate will block attempts to derail the bill before the congressional review is completed in early March.

NOM identified the nine lawmakers expected to introduce and co-sponsor the bill calling for a D.C. marriage referendum as Sens. Robert Bennett (R-Utah), Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), David Vitter (R-La.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Chaffetz’s House version of the bill has only one co-sponsor, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

A “findings” section in Chaffetz’s bill says, “The unelected District of Columbia Board of Elections & Ethics and the unelected District of Columbia Superior Court thwarted the residents’ initiative effort to define marriage democratically, holding that the initiative amounted to discrimination prohibited by the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.”

The bill also says, “Notwithstanding any other provision, including the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, the government of the District of Columbia shall not issue a marriage license to any couple of the same sex until the people of the District of Columbia have the opportunity to hold a referendum or initiative on the question of whether the District of Columbia should issue same-sex marriage licenses.”

Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said last week she received assurances from House and Senate Democratic leaders that Chaffetz’s bill — or a similar bill in the Senate — would die in committee.

Norton said Democratic leaders, along with rank and file Democrats and some Republicans, believe D.C. should be allowed to pass its own laws like the 50 states without congressional interference.

Same-sex marriage advocates in the city have defended a city law prohibiting proposed bills or laws protecting the rights of minorities from being subjected to a popular vote. African American LGBT activists have said the black civil rights bills of the 1960s and 1970s would likely have gone down to defeat in many parts of the country if they were subject to an initiative or referendum.

“We should never underestimate our opponents and we will continue to work with our allies in the Senate to protect marriage equality in the District,” said Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, which is lobbying Congress in support of the same-sex marriage bill.

Peter Rosenstein, a gay Democratic activist, noted the Senate bill “had practically no chance of passage.

“But it is significant for D.C. voters to look at because these are the same Republicans who would deny us a vote in the Congress,” he said. “Their hypocrisy is amazing.”

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

  • An ““An out-of-control city council”? Good grief, in the last election the city’s residents overwhelmingly elected an extremely liberal city council, most of whom have been pretty up front along along about their support for same-sex marriage, but now they’re somehow “out-of-control”??? Give me a break.

  • Now that the District’s elected liberal activist legislators have legislated from the legislature, Congressional Republicans, who have always been the best friends of DC voters, must step in. I guess that Queen Carlotta has declared backwards day yet again.

  • “the unelected District of Columbia Superior Court”? Sounds like more Congressional meddling when these people try to overturn both the elected city council and the courts. What next, kiss their NOM-Republican rings?

  • The Cults of Jesus Inc are hell bent on pushing their Purchased Politicians into driving their agenda of Hate, Fear-Mongering and open discrimination against humans with the God-given attributes of the LGBT Community.
    The Washington, DC City Council will do well to uphold their threat to remove any and all funding from the Catholic Cults of Jesus Inc and the Catholic Charities.
    The Republican Cults of Jesus Inc Purchased Politicians would do well to grasp the idea that they face loss of their positions when they fail to represent the majority of their constituents.
    The bigots are repugnant and deserve censure for failure to uphold their oath to “uphold the Constitution of the United States of America.”
    Get with the programs back home and start making their lives absolute hell for these kinds of positions.

  • Congress needs to save our sinking country and leave DC policy to DC folks.

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