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Don't tolerate attacks on home rule
(Published May 16, 2005)


Last month's Capitol Hill huffing and puffing against the District came from Sen. Sam Brownback. The issue raising the Kansas Republican's dander was gay marriage, an increasingly popular bugbear among right-wing politicians.

Brownback took exception to a legal opinion by D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti that same-sex couples could file tax returns in the District. Never mind that Spagnoletti's opinion was couched in careful legal language and made clear that Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi could reject the filing (which he ultimately did). Despite all of the District's due process and diligence, Brownback saw an opportunity to win political points back home in one of the reddest of red states by standing up for "values" against the run-amok liberals living in the nation's capital.

Of course, this should be no surprise, following the long history on congressional interference in District affairs including the bans on implementing the local medical marijuana initiative, the continuing prohibition on needle exchange programs to prevent AIDS, and the decade-long ban finally overturned in 2001 against the District providing benefits to the unmarried partners of D.C. workers. Because Congress has unique legislative authority over the District, many members regard D.C. as their personal plantation where they can impose social policies and strictures against our will.

Although Gandhi's ruling may have eased Brownback's distemper for the moment, the issue of gay marriage will not go away "the genie is out of the bottle," as Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham said to the Washington Post. However, given the limp reaction of D.C. elected leaders to Brownback's threats to "deal with" the District, the prospects for our being able to freely debate and resolve the issue for ourselves looks dim.

Did any of our leaders tell Brownback to shut up, butt out and mind his own business? The best Mayor Williams could do is wring his hands and mutter about being "extremely concerned" and worrying that "a lot would be in jeopardy" if the ire of Congress were raised over the issue of gay marriage. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton stayed away from the issue, presumably saving her "wild woman" routine for other fights. If other elected officials had anything to say about Brownback's bluster, their words didn't get much circulation.

Should there be a debate in the District about whether to sanction gay marriage, I have no doubt that there will be strong opinion on both sides. Some would argue that we shouldn't touch such a divisive subject. But regardless of whether the issue comes before the D.C. government, and regardless of what the ultimate outcome may be, supporters and opponents alike of gay marriage in the District, as well as those on the fence, should be able to agree that this issue -- and all other local affairs, for that matter should be decided by local citizens alone.

Our elected leaders, from our mayor and non-voting delegate down to the last advisory neighborhood commissioner, should be prepared to stand up and deliver a loud "Hands Off!" to Congress. Timidity and public fretting over possible congressional reaction only invites more interference. When the time comes for D.C. citizens to debate the issue of gay marriage, we should do so facing each other not looking over our collective shoulder.


Mosley is a member of the Stand Up! For Democracy in D.C. Coalition. Contact him at

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator