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Washington D.C. Gay Marriage Law Will Work Differently Than State Laws

The Washington D.C. Council voted yesterday to legalize gay marriage in the District. In D.C., laws passed by the council have to be approved by Congress before becoming law. Once the D.C. mayor signs the bill, both Congress and the president must vote to block the bill within 30 days–otherwise it's automatically approved. Here's the full text of the bill [PDF], entitled the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009. 

This requirement for Congressional approval might give the D.C. gay marriage law more staying power than state laws. In some states, residents can put a measure on a ballot and vote to overturn a gay marriage law passed by their state legislators. If that happens, as it did in Maine, no further legislative approval would be needed.

Some organizations will sue to allow D.C. residents to vote on the gay marriage law, an effort that the governing council rejected before. Even if they win their lawsuit and vote to overturn the new law, Congress would still have the right to reject that overturning. This difference makes it harder for people against gay marriage to overturn the law.

Nevertheless, Congress will not stay liberal forever. Once conservatives are back in power, they will be free to overturn the D.C. gay marriage law without regard to the D.C. Council. Already the top Republican on the Congressional subcommittee overseeing the District has said that Republicans will work to block and eventually overturn the new law.

[Cross-posted at the Gay Couples Law Blog, which discusses same sex family law, estate planning, and taxes.]

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Gideon Alper

Gideon Alper

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