The District of Columbia and Gay Marriage.

The city council of the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) passed a bill the other day legalizing gay marriage within the district. As I understand it, the bill now goes to the mayors desk awaiting a signature, which he said he would sign, assuming first that the bill does not get vetoed first by the U.S. congress.

My questions are…

What would happen if a gay couple got married on the steps of the Capitol building, federal property, when same sex marriage is not federal law? Does it matter where people get married?

Does the bill stand a chance of getting vetoed by congress, and if so, is that common where congress deems what is right and wrong for the people of the district?

To answer your first question, the couple might get arrested for trespassing, but it shouldn’t affect their legal status in regards to their marriage.

To answer your second, I don’t think the bill will be blocked by Congress, but Congress has been known to block District laws when they feel like it. According to the Wall Street Journal, Congress has blocked three laws in the past 25 years. I don’t know what they were, but I know that Congress blocked counting the vote on a non-binding medical marijuana referendum about ten years ago.

To clear up one misconception – The mayor signs the bill first and then it goes to Congress for review. There is a rep in Congress who plans to introduce a bill to overturn it, but I don’t think it will be scheduled, it certainly wouldn’t pass, and I doubt the president would sign it.

As for whether this is common, I saw the same thing as Cap, that D.C bills have been. Posed only three times. But as he notes, Congress mmeddles
with the District all the time in other ways – the marijuana vote, f’rex, wasn’t a Congressional veto, but merely a federL law passed that ordered the District not to tally a vote already taken. Similarly, the appropriations bill just passed this weekend gets rid of a longstanding prohibition on the District providing municipal funds to subsidize abortions for the poor, something that many states choose to do.

Note that although this is immoral and bad policy, there’s no dispute that Congress has the power to do this stuff.

Anyway, as to the OP’s question, the marriage on the Capitol steps would be legal. That locationis within the District, so that is the law that would apply. The federal government wouldn’t recognize the marriage no matter where it took place, but that is irrelevant, as (absent a veto),it is up to the District to decide what marriages consecrated w/in it’s borders are valid.


I agree with the above. The location of the ceremony is irrelevant; D.C. law extends to all areas of the District, as far as I know. And although some Congresses in the past might have acted to overturn a gay marriage law in the District, and some Presidents would’ve happily signed it, I’ll bet you any amount you want that this Congress and this President won’t.

It would be really sweet to have a gay marriage right as some blowhard homophobic Congressman is attacking it

Every year during the cherrly blossoms, uh blossoming, people get married along the water. It is supposed to be a lucky time for marriage. This spring, I hope there are lots of gay folk getting gay married. I love this on so many levels, as a human rights issue, as a home rule issue, and as a way to piss off people in Virginia (where I grew up, btw).

There is another hurdle to overcome.

Opponents of the bill have asked the courts to intervene. Specifically, they feel the issue should be put to a referendum vote. The DC Board of Elections has refused to accept the referendum, and the opponents wish to reverse that decision.

Here we have a curious turnabout of the usual formula. In past cases, those seeking same-sex marriage have been unable to succeed at the legislature and turned to the courts to ask for relief. Here, the success is at the legislature and the courts are being asked for relief. Granted, the “relief” in this case is not a blanket determination that same-sex marriage should be scuttled, but rather simply the opportunity to put it to a direct popular vote.

I don’t think the bill was strong enough on the subject of religious freedom - and as many DC social services are provided by various church groups, this is an issue.

What’s curious about it? The “turnabout” is that equal rights for gays has become accepted as the norm, not as something special to be granted.

That’s been the historical pattern in the advancement of civil rights in general. In short, legislatures won’t vote for something unpopular, but courts will impose it anyway if it’s required under constitutions. Now that it’s “popular” (generally recognized as the right thing to do), legislatures will support it, and opponents will try to use the courts as their only route to frustrate it.

We do not put recognition of constitutional rights up to popular vote.

My understanding is this is about the SSM issue, but not about this bill. That is, if the bill goes through, SSM will be legal in the District by spring, but there might later be a Prop 8 situation overturning it. I may be wrong about that.

Mr. Moto might you spell out your objection a little more? I understand it’s been raised, but I don’t see the objection. (Except the same bigotry that opposes SSM everywhere.)


Sadly, we do that all the time.


So far as I can see, it depends on the speed at which the courts react to the suit filed to force the referendum. It’s not outside the bounds of possibility that they would enjoin enforcement of the law pending the referendum, if they decide to grant the referendum.

I’m not sure how solid the reasoning was on the part of the Board. According to their press release, DC law prohibits a referendum on any subject that is covered by DC’s anti-discrimination law. But DC law was silent on the issue of same-sex marriages, although it did permit recognition of out-of-area same-sex marriages.

I haven’t done the research, and relying on press releases is not the best way to get a accurate picture of the law… but from that glimpse, it seems to me the Board is on safe ground.

Yeah, “we” just did that recently in CA and Maine. And the SCOTUS has not recognized SSM as a constitutional right anyway.

What are the odds that Congress will strike this down? Do they have to take affirmative action to approve it, or do they just have to not do anything to have it stand?

An obvious example would be Catholic Charities. The bill makes no First Amendment provisions for hiring for faith-based groups, which means that Catholic Charities would have to provide spousal benefits to same-sex couples in their employ. To my mind, this is a pretty clear First Amendment violation, and this needs to be worked out.

Also at issue is the fact that Catholic Charities handles a large portion of the District’s adoption cases, and will simply abandon this work rather than be forced to recognize unions it does not consider marriages by any definition.

Not that I doubt that that might happen, but it only further proves to me how fucked up that brand of religion is.

“Let’s completely do away with helping out children who desperately need help so we can avoid having to give Larry’s husband insurance benefits.”

Bill text:

IRT “Religious freedom” it leaves congregations free to NOT solemnize gay marriages, lend their space or provide services fostering gay marriage, just as long as they do not do so for “the general public” (i.e. if you rent out the church for civil weddings of people outside your own denomination).

As Mr. Moto explains, the churches were asking that the religious exemption extend to all ** church entities and activities not having to recognize gay marriages for any** purpose, which would impact such things as employee spousal benefits (and may also touch upon requirements that entities contracting with the District adhere to non-discrimination policies).

I could have been clearer. Under our constitutional principles, we do not put rights up for vote. But obviously we do violate them routinely.

Is it really necessary to go over that again? The constitutional right involved is the one to equal protection, with an assist from due process, NOT to SSM as such.

The latter, which is what will happen.

I’m fairly certain those charities recieve taxpayer money for their services. If they do why should they be exempt from any anti-discrimination provision on religious grounds? They’re free to decline public money if they don’t want to play by the rules.

They do receive public money, but not at a fair market rate. In other words, the services the DC government gets for $1000 from Catholic Charities are ones that, if they hired another agency to perform them, would cost $2,500. CC takes a loss – or, more accurately, contributes their own funds and free labor to the work.

Now, they seem perfectly willing to stop doing that, and the District seems willing to incur the loss of services, so it’s all working out.

Yep. If the supposedly Christian Catholic Charities decides that hating homosexuals is more important than helping the poor and orphaned, so be it. After all, they abandoned the orphans of Massachusetts for the same reasons five years ago. Some Christians, huh?