by Kyle C. Velte
Abortion rights as well as lesbian and gay rights came under sneak attack in Congress last fall. The Republican-led House rewrote and repealed local laws on these issues while passing its version of the District of Columbia appropriations bill for fiscal year 1996.
The bill prohibits performance of even privately funded abortions in any D.C. owned or operated buildings. District residents have no voting representative in Congress, but D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton called the House action "oppressive invasion, rising to the level of insult and disrespect." The bill also bans the use of D.C. Medicaid funds to pay for abortions, except to save the life of the woman or in cases of rape or incest.
The House bill also nullifies the "domestic partner" provisions of the D.C. Code, passed by the locally-elected City Council. Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., said that the law, passed in 1992 but blocked by Congress previously, is an experiment in social engineering that undermines traditional moral values and the institution of marriage.
"Are you so frightened that people will see two men living together in a loving relationship, or two women living together in a loving relationship and that will undermine the family?" Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said. "You are the ones who undermine the family when you trivialize it like this."
The D.C. law would give domestic partners an opportunity to register with the city. This makes partners of city employees eligible to purchase health insurance at their own expense. Norton called on the D.C. City Council to reenact the law in defiance of Congress. "When Congress forces bigotry on a local jurisdiction, that jurisdiction is obligated to fight back any way it can." D.C. Council Member Jack Evans called the Hostettler amendment "an unwarranted intrusion into our self-governing . . . pure ideology and posturing."
Finally, the House appropriations bill would prohibit "joint custody" adoptions. Although the ban would include unmarried heterosexual couples, clearly Congress is trying to impose moral judgements on lesbians and gays as well.
"It is time to call a spade a spade," said Norton. "Homophobia is too polite a word for prejudice that is functionally the same as Blacks have faced in this country since its founding. Gay men and lesbians have faced the same prejudice throughout eternity."
The adoption amendment was offered by Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark., and would reverse a ruling by the D.C. Court of Appeals that upheld the right of non-married partners to adopt children. These "second-parent" adoptions are currently permissible under the city's adoption statute. The implications of this reversal are broad. Passage of the amendment would prevent supportive and loving families from gaining legal recognition, would offer no protection to the children in their relationship to the nonlegal parent and would put the nonlegal parent at risk of losing contact with the child in case of a breakup with the adoptive parent.
During the floor debate Norton and her allies repeatedly tried to point out the hypocrisy of the House Republicns -- that while advocating for states' rights and states' autonomy in all other key legislation, they are ruling the District with an iron fist. During one particularly tense moment in the debate, Norton was asked to yield the floor to a Republican. She responded, "The one thing you have taken from me is my vote. Let me speak for my city." In addition to our support of lesbian and gay rights and abortion rights, NOW also supports D.C. statehood and full voting representation for the residents of the District.
The Senate version of the bill includes similar language about domestic partnership and abortion, but does not contain the adoption language. The D.C. Appropriations Bill is currently in a House-Senate Conference Committee where the House and Senate versions of the bill are being reconciled. NOW activists are lobbying members of the conference committee and will urge a veto by President Clinton.