David Catania of the Washington D.C. Council will soon be introducing the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009,” which would legalize gay marriage in Washington DC. The bill has ten co-sponsors (from a 13 member council) and seems guaranteed to pass.
This is bigger than any states legalization of gay marriage as the District is administered by Congress, so all laws passed by the Council are at the mercy of congressional review. If Congress decides not to step in and overturn the law that inaction denotes the biggest step toward gay marriage the legislative branch of the federal government has ever undertaken.
The federal government employs 27% of workers in D.C. but under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act they do not recognize same sex marriages. If the D.C. Council passes this law Congress and President Obama may be forced to reconsider DOMA as a matter of policy. The president has already stated his opposition to DOMA, but he does not support same sex marriage either. This could force him to make that push for gay rights we all expected after his campaign.
Of course the law faces challenges. The bills author, from a Washington Post article;
“I think it is very important for people to realize we are talking about a civil marriage, not a religious marriage,” Catania said.
Is it still necessary to convince people of this? Unfortunately the answer must be yes. Until people realize that legalizing same sex marriage does not mean the pope will have to marry Rosie and Ellen the fight for marriage equality will be harder than it needs to be. Conservatives from all over the country will get involved, conveniently forgetting their mantras of limited government and states (or districts) rights.
I don’t see a repeal of DOMA in the near future. Congress is way too busy with health care reform to bring up another divisive issue. Maybe all the D.C. law will accomplish is gay marriage in D.C., but for all the gay couples there that just want the same rights as everyone else, thats still a very good thing.