March 16, 2010 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Senator backs off D.C. marriage amendment

In a little noticed development, Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) filed an amendment with the Senate clerk March 11 that would prohibit D.C. from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the city allows voters to decide the issue through a referendum or initiative.

But Bennett did not formally introduce the amendment before Senate Democrats and Republicans agreed by unanimous consent to an approved list of amendments for a Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill — the measure to which Bennett intended to attach his amendment.

The approved list does not include his amendment, preventing him from bringing it up at this time.

Bennett’s office did not return calls seeking to determine why he didn’t offer the amendment before the list restricting new amendments was approved. It could not be immediately determined whether Bennett’s GOP colleagues persuaded him to stop moving ahead with the amendment or whether he made the decision on his own.

“Amendments are often filed and not offered,” said Max Gleischman, national press secretary for Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate’s majority whip.

“So I’m not sure why it wasn’t offered,” Gleischman said. “But it was not. And so therefore we’ve locked in, through a consent agreement, a finite list of amendments. And that’s not one of the ones on the list.”

Bennett’s proposed amendment, which was published in the March 11 Congressional Record, is identical to a free-standing bill that he and seven other Republicans introduced Feb 2. The bill’s purpose is “to protect the democratic process and the right of the people of the District of Columbia to define marriage.”

According to the Congressional Record, Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) joined Bennett in filing the amendment as an attachment to the FAA authorization bill, which is being considered on the Senate floor.

The authorization measure is being pushed by Senate Democratic leaders and is considered essential for continued operation of U.S. aviation related programs, including the nation’s air traffic control system.

Both the amendment and Bennett’s free-standing bill say, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, 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 license.”

Paul Strauss, who lobbies the U.S. Senate as an informal shadow senator on D.C. related issues, said unconfirmed reports that Bennett was planning to introduce an amendment to block the city’s same-sex marriage law surfaced last week on Capitol Hill.

“It could potentially force an up or down vote on gay marriage,” Strauss said. “This is certainly something that Democrats and at least some Republicans want to avoid.”

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

4 Comments
  • Demosthenes Project

    I think that some degree of thanks for this should be extended to Messrs. McDonnell and Cuccinelli of Virginia. They have certainly helped to set a tone in much of the country on the general topic of gay rights. Who knew we would have the thesis author and his chief lawyer to credit with putting the anti-equality side on the defensive? They should be considered for some sort of gala-event recognition.

  • We will have a civil wedding ceremony in DC next month (and one of us also happens to be a professional corporate pilot). We are appalled–but, sadly, not surprised–at this attempt by these Republicans and relieved that it didn’t go anywhere…for now. We can only hope the reason this amendment wasn’t offered was because of a high likelihood that even a referendum would fail at the present time. We have our fingers crossed that the Republicans don’t pull any stunts like this before our ceremony next month. There is some worry that, once the health bill is passed, the Republicans, desperate for new targets, will focus on destroying this new right.

  • Are any measures being taken to address the backlog before it’s too late?

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