THE BLOG
06/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

DC, Congress, and the 'M' Word; Part Deux

Today, DC Council is expected to give final reading and pass legislation containing a provision that will allow the District to recognize valid marriages from other jurisdictions between couples of the same gender. Given the unique relationship between DC and Congress, I thought it would be helpful to share some questions and answers to some of the most pressing questions.

When Council first voted on this a month ago, there was significant confusion and misreporting. I'm hopeful that the information below will help our friends in the mainstream media should they choose to report on this today.

Q: DOES THIS SET UP A SHOW DOWN WITH CONGRESS OVER THE FREEDOM TO MARRY?
A: No, the DC Council is affirming that it will honor valid contracts between two people in another jurisdiction. This is in keeping with Constitutional principle and over 100 years of tradition of the District recognizing such legal contracts.

While Congress has legislative review power over DC Council's actions, overturning a DC law requires proactive legislation passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President. Today's vote does NOT trigger an automatic vote by Congress on marriage.

Q: HAS CONGRESS EVER OVERTURNED A LAW PASSED BY DC COUNCIL?
A: Not since the current legislative review process was instituted by the Supreme Court has Congress overturned DC law by an Act of Congress. However, Congress has used the budgetary process to prevent implementation of acts by DC Council. One example of this is Domestic Partnerships in DC. Congress attached a rider to DC Appropriations for several years forbidding money from being spent to implement the Domestic Partnership law.

Recognizing civil marriage contracts from other jurisdictions, however, does not cost the District money. The passage of the law, for all intents and purposes, is an indication that the District of Columbia will recognize a valid civil marriage between a couple of the same gender at such time that the law demands a determination of marital status.

Q: WHY SET UP A DEBATE OVER THE FREEDOM TO MARRY NOW?
A: The Council of the District of Columbia is not passing a marriage equality bill today. It is simply voting to honor civil contracts legally executed in another jurisdiction. That may prompt some to debate the issue of marriage equality. Trends show us that those on the opposing side are shrinking in numbers.

For the first time, an ABC News poll last week showed that a plurality of Americans support the right of gay people to have the freedom to marry. Polling also shows us that younger generations support this freedom by large majorities, indicating where we can expect public opinion to be in the near future.

Q: WHAT IS THE POSITION OF THE PRESIDENT AND DEMOCRATS IN CONGRESS ON THIS ISSUE?
A: Neither the President nor the Democratic Leadership has indicated a position on this specific action. However, many are on the record both supporting Home Rule for the District of Columbia and as believing that the States should define marriage. As Congress treats DC as a State for many purposes, this action would be allowable under their stated positions.

Q: WHAT COMES NEXT?
A: After today, a 30 legislative day review period will begin. At the end of those 30 legislative (not calendar) days, the District of Columbia can begin to honor valid marriage contracts from other jurisdictions, regardless of sexual orientation.