Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What Could Keep Gay Marriage Bill From Becoming Law

Taking an idea all the way from just a thought in someone's mind to codified law has always been tough in this country. Was meant to be that way since 1789 and will continue to be that way in the future. Part of the checks and balances system encourages due diligence be done and seeks to limit compulsive or abusive law making. The system does this by slowing down the process of turning an idea into a law.

But in DC its extra tough and extra slow. Not only do we have to conduct the regular steps of legislation; shepherd through council committees, subcommittees and then vote as a whole Council, then vote again two weeks later as a whole Council, then get a signature by the mayor.

But then there's Congress. If you ever want to be reminded that we are --at times-- treated like a ward of the state, here you go. Our laws have to be presented to special subcommittees in the House and Senate of the United States. And by proxy they are subject to review by the entire U.S. Congress. At this point, if a review occurs and no action is taken by Congress after 30 days, the bill becomes a law. No vote is needed.

However, the House and Senate can pass a Joint Resolution striking the bill down. A Joint Resolution is voted on like a bill, it has to pass with a simple majority in each chamber. Then, the President has to sign off on the Joint Resolution. At that point, the DC bill, which was almost a law, would be no more. It would have to go through the same process again and be resubmitted to Congress.

Even the threat of Congressional veto means that some ideas won't ever be put to paper as bills. For example, many local urban planner-thinkers like to suggest scraping our building height limit in certain parts of the city. I also think that's a great idea. And they're right, its a city municipal code and can be changed by the DC Council. Why not. Let's build skyscrapers in Tenleytown. Not likely, but let's say it happened next month; DC Council passes a bill eliminating height restrictions and Fenty signs off on it. There's no way, just none, that Congress would leave this bill alone. It would be killed immediately after review. So, the idea never gets pass the pie-in-the-sky phase. We know its a lost cause idea. Cool to talk about, but not possible right now.

But the gay marriage bill is different. We wouldn't be the first to allow marriage. We'd follow Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, Iowa and New Hampshire. And Congress had already set this up as a state and local issue with the somewhat ridiculous Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996. So, here we are with a local decision. Passed twice by our local council and then signed by the local mayor. And we're talking about a basic right to participate in a simple, but important institution. A right available to about 90% of adults in this country. But not to everyone in every state.

To Congress, I say we decided yes, so let us be. To DC, I say let the rice throwing begin.