Why did a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives veto the District's so-called "Sexual Assault Reform" law by the lopsided margin of 281-119? If one relied on The Post for information, one would believe Congress behaved irrationally and irresponsibly. An editorial suggested that a majority in the House seized on "bundles of inaccurate, sensationalist information" and had "no regard for any sanctity of local self-government in the capital." A Post news report stated that the law Congress overturned "had no apparent bearing on the so-called federal interest that theoretically gives Congress veto power over local legislation in the nation's capital."
But congressional opponents of the law were anything but hysterical; if they appeared to be, it was only because the law they condemned was so bizarre. If anything, the critics leaned over backward to be fair.
The truth is that the law contained repeals of and amendments to current law that made the new measure unacceptable for the nation's capital, and these provisions--not any desire to meddle in the District's affairs--compelled Congress to exercise its constitutional responsibility. The act's provisions would have explicitly and specifically repealed the statutes in the D.C. code regarding seduction by a teacher of a female aged 16 to 21; sodomy; bestiality; and provisions against fornication and adultery. People of good will can legitimately disagree about whether the government should legislate such matters. But who can defend the repeal of the law protecting students against sexual advances by their teachers? The law would have prohibited sexual acts with an inmate or a patient, but not with a student. Why this omission? Also, virtually any private, consensual sexual act between partners over 16 would have been legal. Plainly, this would have included homosexual and heterosexual relations between teachers and willing students.
Council member David Clarke and the other framers of the law also attempted to repeal the incest statute and the laws against sex by children under 16. The framers would even have decriminalized consensual sex by children under 12 years of age, provided they were not more than two years apart in age.
And who can explain why there was an attempt to repeal the statute against sex with animals? Only aggravating circumstances could have been prosecuted--i.e., instances of cruelty and public indecency; the act of bestiality would have been legal. And why would the law have been amended to make prosecution for indecent exposure more difficult, even for acts that occur in locked stalls in public restrooms?
The decriminalization of sodomy aroused well-grounded fears of Washington residents. Only a year ago, Washingtonian magazine featured a cover story with the question: "Is Washington becoming the Gay Capital of America?" "Gays were Mayor Barry's key voting block," the magazine said, "and now the homosexual population of Washington is growing in numbers, visibility and clout." The residents of Washington do not have to be homophobic to be properly concerned about the reinforcement the new law would have given to that process.
The Constitution recognizes and requires extraordinary congressional responsibility for the District. Also, the Self- Government Act of 1973 carefully reserved to Congress ultimate legislative jursidiction over the capital "on any subject."
The federal interest is set by Washington's status as the nation's capital, which belongs uniquely to all Americans. Moreover, Washington is the nation's showplace, which sends a signal to the world of the standards we advocate as a nation.
Congress can and does routinely exercise detailed control over Washington through the budget process. It is Congress, not the D.C. council, that makes final decisions on the District's appropriations. Congress has recently used this power to block D.C. plans to hire new police officers and firemen by a hiring lottery, to run a gambling lottery and to haul sludge to Pennsylvania. Since 1935, Congress has forbidden the city from spending money even to study the merits of installing meters in taxicabs.
D.C. home rule is anything but absolute. In this latest instance, Congress acted responsibly and lawfully in discharging its constitutional function of oversight. Surely, if Congress can prevent the city from studying taxicab meters, it can appropriately stop the capital from decriminalizing sodomy, bestiality and seduction by a teacher.