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Posted at 03:39 PM ET, 11/09/2009

Committee unveils changes to same-sex bill

A D.C. Council committee will probably approve major changes Tuesday to the bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the District, including a provision that will make it easier for churches to avoid having to participate in gay weddings and receptions.

In preparation for the "mark up" hearing before the Committee of Public Safety and the Judiciary, Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) released a draft of the amendments that will probably be attached to the bill.

The two biggest changes involve the religious exemptions as well as the question of whether the District would continue to offer domestic partnerships once same-sex marriage is permitted.

As introduced by council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), the bill calls for the elimination of domestic partnerships starting in 2011. But Mendelson, with support from Catania, wants to have that provision stricken from the bill when the committee votes today.

In recent weeks, some D.C. residents have argued that couples should have the choice to choose between a marriage and a domestic partnership. They noted that straight and gay couples apply for domestic partnerships.

"The Committee recognizes that it may be appropriate, at some point in the future, to address whether the District should continue with the provision of domestic partnerships," the draft committee report states. "However, it does not believe that it is necessary to evaluate discontinuing domestic partnerships at this time, nor does it believe that the current legislation is the appropriate vehicle."

Mendelson, chairman of the public safety committee, is also moving to strengthen the religious exemption of the bill.

As currently drafted, churches and religious officials would not have to marry same-sex couples. Religious organizations could also deny reception space and other services to same-sex couples "unless the entity makes such services, accommodations, or goods available for purchase, rental, or use to members of the general public."

Some church officials opposed that language, arguing that it could force them to stop providing some services to the public.

The revised language would permit a church or religious official to deny services related to the "solemnization, celebration, or promotion" of a same-sex wedding without fear of running afoul of the city's anti-discrimination laws.

-- Tim Craig

By Washington Post Editors  |  03:39 PM ET, 11/09/2009

Categories:  Tim Craig, Tim Craig, Tim Craig, Tim Craig, Tim Craig

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