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DC About to Provide a Preview of Congressional Marriage Equality Debate?

April 10th, 2009 No comments

Even as Vermont was breaking through the Governor’s veto to enact a marriage equality law on Tuesday, the District of Columbia’s Council was voting unanimously (12-zip) to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. This was a preliminary vote; the Real Deal happens in early May. Then what?

The Home Rule Act of 1973 gave the District some long-overdue autonomy, but Congress couldn’t resist retaining a veto for itself: As set forth on the DC Council’s website, “Congress reviews all legislation passed by the Council before it can become law….” This could make for an interesting summer.

Note, first, that this isn’t the marriage equality bill: The council  members support equality, but are sticking a tentative toe into the whirlpool of Congressional politics. If this gets through, expect a full equality bill on its heels. So, what might happen to this trial balloon?

The easiest approach would be to, er, punt. This outcome seems to me likely. Here’s what one Congressman had to say in 2007 about approving DC’s  needle-exchange program: “You know, I came here to be a member of the United States Congress. I didn’t come here to be a member of the D.C. City Council.” Inasmuch as the Dems control everything in Congress right now, all but the most blood-red state Republicans might sit this one out, deferring to home rule and avoiding the merits of the debate.

Or they might take the advice of right-wing pundits like Michael Goldfarb and use the opportunity to make their (blue dog?) Democratic colleagues squirm. But will they squirm? It seems that either  side can use, as convenience dictates, arguments about home rule and about federalism (although, strictly speaking, this isn’t federalism as DC’s status has always been unique — and, more to the point, it’s not even a state).

But moderates in Congress might not find it necessary to avoid the merits. If marriage equality itself is directly up for discussion,we’ll get a good sense of where lawmakers stand, and likely a first read on the likelihood that the Defense of Marriage Act might be repealed sometime soon.