Chaffetz leads fight against D.C. gay marriage law

Published: Wednesday, May 6 2009 12:05 p.m. MDT

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, says Republicans will seek to overturn a just-passed ordinance by the District of Columbia Council to recognize in the nation's capital same-sex marriages performed elsewhere — and he is helping to lead the GOP effort.

Although just a freshman, Chaffetz is the ranking Republican on a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees District of Columbia operations. The district's charter allows Congress 30 days to overturn any ordinance passed by its council.

"There are some things worth fighting for, and this is one of them," said Chaffetz, who believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman. "I happen to believe I represent the majority of Americans and the majority of D.C. residents" on the issue.

"Ultimately, I want to do everything I can to bring this to a vote before the House," Chaffetz added.

It may set the stage for the biggest fight ever in Congress over what marriage should and should not be.

From the time that enactment of the ordinance is reported formally to the House, Chaffetz said Congress has 30 days to act on it and possibly overturn it.

"I doubt the House speaker (Democrat Nancy Pelosi) is going to move on it, so there are other procedural avenues for the minority party to add voice to this discussion," Chaffetz said. "We'll work with leadership to work out the best avenue."

But he added that it will be difficult to find enough support to overturn the ordinance.

"Democrats have numbers. This is one of their favorite issues, so I think it is going to be difficult, at best," Chaffetz said.

The D.C. Council passed the ordinance on a 12-1 vote Tuesday, setting off shouts of reproach to council members from local ministry — who caused such an uproar that security officers and D.C. police were called in to clear the hallway outside the council's chambers.

The Washington Post reported that the lone dissenter on the council, former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, said, "All hell is going to break lose" in D.C. because of the ordinance.

"We may have a civil war," Barry said. "The black community is just adamant against this."

D.C. Council member David A. Catania, who is openly gay, accused Barry of taking a "bigoted" position against the bill, even though Barry was a prominent African-American figure during the civil-rights movement and said he has been a supporter of gay rights since the 1970s.

"This issue is whether or not our colleagues on a personal level, view me and Jim Graham (another openly gay member of the D.C. Council), as your equals," Catania said. "This is acknowledging our families as much as we acknowledge yours."

Catania also told Barry, "Your position is bigoted. I don't think you are."

The ordinance goes to D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who said he will sign it. More than 100 local black ministers signed a letter this week to Fenty urging him to oppose the measure. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington also issued a statement criticizing the vote as showing "a lack of understanding of the true meaning of marriage."

E-MAIL: lee@desnews.com

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