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House Passes D.C. Spending Bill

On September 25, after a contentious debate on several gay rights-related amendments, the House approved the $398 million FY2002 District of Columbia (D.C.) appropriations bill (H.R. 2944) by a vote of 327-88.

The bill would allow the use of local funds to implement a D.C. law that permits D.C. employees to purchase health insurance benefits for their domestic partners, regardless of gender. Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL) offered an amendment to prohibit the District from using federal or local funds for this program; however, the amendment was defeated, 194-226.

Rep. Weldon stated that the “District of Columbia had the option to write a law that would have covered…hardship cases, but instead they chose to write a law that was a blanket provision that simply allows heterosexuals cohabitating to qualify for this benefit and homosexuals cohabitating to qualify for this benefit.” He added that the bill “will have an impact on the institution of marriage in the United States and on how corporations and State and municipal governments treat this issue throughout our Nation for the years to come.”

Arguing against Rep. Weldon’s amendment, Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) called the bill’s provision “a humanitarian measure.” She added, “It grants not only gay and lesbian couples the same protections against illnesses as married heterosexual couples, but also extends the benefits to disabled people, to live-in health care providers, a single man or woman caring for an elderly parent, and other living situations not traditionally covered by health insurance.”

Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN) offered an amendment to prohibit federal or local funds from being spent to issue, administer, or enforce the D.C. Commission on Human Rights ruling that the Boy Scouts of America reinstate and compensate two homosexual Scout leaders.

Arguing in favor of Rep. Hostettler’s amendment, Rep. Robin Hayes (R-NC) said that “the Supreme Court has ruled on this issue-and they said that to force the Boy Scouts to accept homosexual troop leaders would violate their right to free association and would dilute the Scouts’ message. We must not threaten the Scouts’ constitutional freedoms that were clearly upheld by the Supreme Court.” The amendment was approved by a vote of 262-152.

A former Scout, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), spoke in opposition to the amendment. “I do not know why we are in this at all. I would hope that we could move on with the more important business of the Nation, which at this time makes this matter a pretty small issue, given tens of thousands of our troops being arrayed across the world, to be here now debating back and forth a decision by the Human Rights Commission here in the District,” he said.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) introduced an amendment to Rep. Hostettler’s amendment, to limit the prohibition to federal funds, which was rejected 173-243. She explained that “if we proceed, we are not only undermining the local courts of the District of Columbia, which, by the way, are Federal courts, but we are undermining the independence of the Federal judiciary as well, because this decision is based on a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States; and this matter will ultimately find its way there, if it has been incorrectly decided by the District’s Human Rights Commission.”

The bill maintains current law with respect to the prohibition on the use of local and federal funds for abortion coverage for low-income women on Medicaid, implementation of a voter referendum approving the medical use of marijuana, and needle exchange programs. Exceptions for abortion coverage are made in the cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. The bill does not renew a provision enacted last year that prohibits the distribution of needles within 1,000 feet of schools.

This week, the Senate Appropriations Committee postponed its mark-up of the D.C. spending bill.

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