Conservative Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell announced yesterday that his Moral Majority lobby is asking Congress to veto a D.C. City Council-approved bill that removes most criminal penalties for homosexual acts and sodomy between consenting adults.
Calling the city sex bill "a perverted act about perverted acts," Falwell said the Moral Majority is supporting two separate congressional bills, either of which, if passed, would kill the new laws.
"I feel that D.C. home rule is good," Falwell said in announcing his group's opposition. "But home rule taken to the extent of legalizing what has previously been illegal and normalizing moral decadence is not."
The Moral Majority-supported bills have been introduced in the House by Rep. Philip Crane (R-Ill.) and in the Senate by Sen. Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.)
Mayor Marion Barry immediately denounced the lobbying campaign as anti-home rule. At his monthly press conference yesterday, Barry said, "We're going to fight awfully hard to preserve the integrity of home rule."
Supporters of Falwell's lobbying effort disagreed. The Rev. Cleveland Sparrow Sr., chairman of the D.C. Moral Majority and president of Sparroworld Baptist Corporation, said yesterday, "This is not a matter of home rule -- it's a matter of home ruin."
Under the terms of the city's home rule charter, either house of Congress may overturn a council-passed bill altering the city's criminal code -- provided that body passes a resolution disapproving the local bill within a review period of 30 legislative days.
Congress has until Oct. 6 to act before the bill becomes law, according to the calculations of city officials.
Falwell was joined by representatives from the Christian Voice lobby group, the Baptist Ministers Conference, headed by the Rev. Carey Pointer, and the predominantly white D.C. Federation of Citizen's Associations.
The sex bill was passed by the council in July after a week of emotionally charged debate among the council members and in the community about the proper role of government in setting moral standards through criminal law.
The bill's most controversial provision, liberalizing the age of consent for teen-aged sex, was eventually eliminated, but the bill still decriminalizes homosexual acts and sodomy between consenting adults, which Washington's gay community considered a victory.
At yesterday's press conference, Falwell said that the council passed the bill and Mayor Marion Barry signed it because of their "fear of the gay vote." Falwell, who said he believes gays should have equal rights, added, however, "It would be very terrible if Washington D.C. became the gay capital of the world."
The Rev. John D. Bussey, pastor of the Bethesda Baptist Church in Northeast Washington, said, "Like all politicians in this country, they the council members were afraid of the homosexual people in this world. There are more straight people in this world than homosexuals."
The effort to overturn the sexual assault bill marks the first major thrust into D.C. politics by the Moral Majority, which gained national recognition for its support of conservative political candidates across the country last year.
Asked why the group was concerned about a local District of Columbia concern, Falwell said, "There are very few places that have the significance worldwide of Washington, D.C." He added, "This isn't just a local law. This is the capital of the free world. If Washington, D.C., says anything goes, then what would other cities say?"