An agreement by President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders to Republican demands for imposing two D.C.-related riders on a federal budget bill has renewed fears among LGBT activists that the city’s same-sex marriage law could be the next target of Republicans in Congress.
The president and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said they reluctantly agreed to demands from conservative members of the House to budget amendments barring the city from funding abortions for low-income women and imposing a school voucher program that city officials oppose as a condition for averting a federal government shutdown.
“The president continues to oppose riders in this bill that undermine the District’s ability for home rule,” said White House spokesperson Shin Inouye in a statement released last week. “However, as he has said repeatedly, the ability to reach an agreement to keep the government open meant that all parties had to make some compromises,” Inouye said.
In response to questions from the media, Obama has stated in the past that he believes marriage-related issues should be addressed by the states. But he has not weighed in on same-sex marriage proposals that have surfaced in specific states or in D.C.
Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) told the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club last week that she fears the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party in the House has become emboldened and will likely push more social riders on the 2012 D.C. appropriations bill.
Some congressional insiders are speculating that same-sex marriage opponents on the Hill may attempt to attach a rider calling for repeal of the D.C. marriage law to legislation next month needed to raise the federal debt ceiling. Such legislation is deemed crucial by most lawmakers and the White House.
Traditionally, federal debt ceiling bills have not been used as a vehicle for social riders, but some Hill observers have speculated that conservative GOP lawmakers may make an exception to that practice this year.
Congress must approve D.C.’s budget bill each year, even though nearly all of the money for the city’s budget is generated by the city through local tax dollars. Over the past 20 years, Republicans and some conservative Democrats have pushed through numerous riders on the D.C. budget bill, including one that barred the city from implementing its domestic partners law for nearly nine years before that rider was lifted in 2001.
“I have not heard specific news on the anti-marriage front beyond what has been reported, but prudence requires us to assume that the anti-gay fanatics will come after us,” said Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, a non-partisan political group.
Rosendall said GLAA plans to work with its LGBT and straight allies to lobby against efforts by Congress to interfere in D.C. affairs on a wide variety of issues, including marriage.
Peter Rosenstein, president of the Campaign for All D.C. Families, another non-partisan group that coordinated efforts to secure passage of the city’s same-sex marriage law, said the group is preparing for possible attempts by members of Congress to either overturn the law or force the city to hold a voter initiative on the issue.
Rosenstein said officials with the group have met with congressional staffers, including the staff of Reid and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). He said Campaign for All D.C. Families has retained the pro bono services of the LGBT supportive lobbying firm Raben Group to help lobby against congressional efforts to kill the marriage law.
He said the campaign also continues to use the pro bono services of the prominent D.C. law firm Covington and Burling to help it contend with a possible voter initiative on the marriage question.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said his group has already begun urging moderate and conservative Republicans in Congress to oppose any effort to repeal D.C.’s same-sex marriage law.
Cooper said he has learned from conversations with congressional GOP staffers as well as members that most Republicans don’t favor a messy fight over D.C.’s gay marriage law.
“To some conservatives, this would be anti-states’ rights, and they would not support it,” Cooper said. “This whole thing is limited so far to a handful of House members,” Cooper said, in discussing supporters of overturning D.C.’s marriage law.
Among them is Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who announced in January that he and other conservative GOP House members “definitely” planned to introduce legislation to overturn the D.C. marriage law.
“The Republican leadership has made it clear that social issues are not a high priority,” said Cooper.
But he acknowledges that GOP leaders, including Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) are coming under great pressure from the social conservative faction of the party to take up social issues, including the marriage issue.
Fred Sainz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said HRC could not obtain “solid intelligence” to confirm any attempt to link repeal of D.C.’s marriage law to the debt ceiling bill. But he said the group is “definitely concerned” that Republicans will attempt to add marriage-related riders to D.C.’s FY 2012 appropriations bill.
“HRC opposes any attempt to use LGBT citizens of the District as pawns to make a political statement,” Sainz said. “As we have done in the past, we would work with House and Senate allies, including Delegate Norton, to develop the best strategy to successfully block such riders,” he said.
“The Tea Party fanatics in Congress smell blood and will be pushing a lot of social riders on D.C.’s 2012 appropriations bill if we do not fight back,” said GLAA’s Rosendall.