Ethics Committee Scraps Rules on Gay Marriage

Posted April 22, 2010 at 3:11pm

The House ethics committee has scrapped proposed rules that for the first time would have defined gay married couples as “spouses” for the purposes of filling out their annual Congressional financial disclosure forms.

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, also know as the ethics panel, had released draft rules a week ago that made extensive revisions to the old instruction manual for filling out financial disclosure forms. The draft rules included a paragraph declaring that “In 2009, there were a total of four states which issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont. (New Hampshire and the District of Columbia began issuing such licenses effective in 2010.) If you and your spouse were issued a marriage license by any of these states and were subsequently legally married in that state, you must disclose all required spousal information on your Financial Disclosure Statement.”

After Roll Call inquired about the language change, the instructions were pulled from the websites of the ethics committee and the Clerk of the House.

On Thursday the committee and the Clerk of the House posted new instructions on their websites that drop any reference to gay marriage.

Supporters and opponents of gay marriage had attacked the draft instructions, though for different reasons. Gay marriage opponents argued that it was a back-door attempt to recognize gay marriage, while supporters argued that it was unfair to enforce the burdens of disclosure on gay married couples without the benefits of full recognition. Both sides agreed that the new rules would be a violation of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which mandates that for any federal regulations, “the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.”

The final instructions released by the committee Thursday are nearly identical to the instruction manual for last year’s disclosure forms, doing away with detailed revisions that were included in the draft. The final instruction manual, like last year’s, runs 23 pages, not including sample forms and citations. The draft manual was 29 pages long, and included a host of revisions, including a new description of the rules for reporting real estate holdings. All of those changes have been removed.

The final instruction manual also makes no reference to a new “capital gains” box on the disclosure forms that members must file. The box was apparently added to address the recurring problem of Members reporting sales of stock without reporting capital gains that they realized in those sales. The new form specifically requires the filer to check a box if a sale produced capital gains of more than $200.

Members and senior staff are required to file their disclosure forms by May 15.