D.C. Council to Introduce Bill Allowing Same-Sex Marriage

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill said it appears unlikely that Congress will block a bill to be introduced Tuesday that would allow same-sex marriages in the District.

D.C. Council leaders have vowed to expedite the bill and said they hope to put it to a final vote before Christmas. But even if same-sex couples start marrying next year, the long-term survival of the practice would be in doubt for years, depending on the makeup of the House and Senate, congressional officials said.

"I hate to say this, but I think this is going to be rough sledding," said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.). "I don't think [conservatives] are going to give us a pass. . . . I don't think we can always escape this issue coming to the floor."

On Tuesday morning, D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) will introduce his bill, which says that "any person . . . may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender." The legislation, which has 10 co-sponsors including Catania, is expected to sail through the council's committee process. Under Home Rule, Congress will have 30 legislative days to review the council's action before it becomes law.

Given the stakes for the gay community locally and nationally, many city leaders and activists have begun calculating how Congress might react to the sight of same-sex couples getting married in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.

In an interview, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she had received assurances from House Democratic leaders that she doesn't need to worry about congressional intervention.

"The House and Senate have their plates really full," Norton said. "I don't think this is anything that is going to somehow scramble over into that."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who tried to derail a bill passed by the council this year recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, also expressed doubts that he or other Republicans could be major obstacles.

"Given the gravity of health care and other tumultuous debate, it hasn't got much attention," said Chaffetz, the ranking member of the House subcommittee that oversees the District. "You couple that with the Democrats' stranglehold on the rules, and the minority is left somewhat impotent."

Chaffetz said he plans to fight the council's bill, but he also said the issue could become entangled in a debate among Republicans on Capitol Hill over how far the party should go in speaking out against same-sex marriage.

"It's going to be a big symbolic issue, and the question is, are conservatives really going to make a stand?" said Linda McClain, a law professor at Boston University who is studying the same-sex marriage debate.

Despite the uncertainty, many D.C. Council members said they are taking a risk by putting the same-sex marriage issue before Congress as it gears up for next year's midterm elections.

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