Last week, Washington D.C. Councilman David Catania introduced The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, a bill that would legalize marriage for same-sex couples in the District. Unfortunately, although the bill is said to have the support of 10 out of 13 D.C. council members, the fight for marriage equality in D.C. may just be beginning. This is because, unlike any other local government in the country, D.C. is subject to control by the federal government thanks to Home Rule Act, enacted in 1973, which gives the federal government ultimate jurisdiction over the District’s local government.
It now appears that some conservative members of Congress are gearing up to abuse this power in order to deprive D.C.’s citizens of the right to have their duly elected officials expand civil rights and liberties in D.C. That’s right; the same Representatives who claim to support “states’ rights” are now planning to use the heavy hand of the federal government to interfere in local affairs.
This approach reveals the true nature of modern hate-based conservatism – conservatives simply believe that power should lie with the states when they states are going to limit gay rights, but the power should lie with the federal government if the states are planning to expand gay rights. This only makes sense when you realize that the conservative claim of standing for “states’ rights” is, and always has been, nothing more than a pretense that allows them to couch their hateful ideologies in less offensive terminology. It was true nearly 30 years ago, when Ronald Reagan gave a wink and a nod to the hate-filled core of his party by saying he supported “states’ rights” during his first post-convention speech outside of Philadelphia, Mississippi, where 3 civil rights workers infamously were murdered in 1964, as it is today. The movement that Reagan built was only concerned with the rights of the rich, the white, and the straight and, apparently, nothing has changed.
Furthermore, we here at SIECUS, which has an office here in D.C., have a special concern for our countless co-workers, friends, colleagues and partners, gay and straight, who live in the District and will be directly affected if Congress should decide to override the City Council’s vote. It is a shame that the fate of a bill of such magnitude and consequence rests in the hands of out-of-town legislators who are ill-equipped to decide what is best for D.C. It’s time that we all stand up, in the District and across the nation, not for states’ rights, but for human rights.