D.C. Council Votes to Recognize Gay Marriages Performed in Other States

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty discusses the D.C. Council's decision Tuesday to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere, and how he thinks Congress will react. Video by News Channel 8/WJLA-TV 7
By Nikita Stewart and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The D.C. Council unanimously voted yesterday to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere, joining a growing number of states to loosen restrictions on the unions.

The District's actions came the same day as Vermont became the fourth state to recognize same-sex marriages and a week after the Iowa Supreme Court legalized such unions. The moves generated a sense of momentum and hope among gay activists and anger among some religious and conservative groups.

The vote in the District was preliminary. Lawmakers expect a final one May 5. The District already allows domestic partnerships, and its decision was the first step in a looming battle for the city's gay marriage bill. That measure is expected to be introduced in the council soon and undoubtedly will pit the city against opponents in Congress, which has the final say in the District's legislative matters.

"I think we're going to look back at this week as a moment when our entire country turned a corner," said Jennifer C. Pizer, national marriage project director for the advocacy group Lambda Legal. "Each time there's an important step forward, it makes it easier for others to follow."

That road remains an uphill one for supporters, however. Forty-three states have laws prohibiting gay marriages -- 29 of those with constitutional amendments specifically defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Under Home Rule, the District's laws are subject to approval by Congress.

But council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said "the writing is on the wall" that the city will approve gay marriage. "We are now taking the issue directly to Congress, and no one else can do that," said Graham, who is gay.

Ranking members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and a subcommittee that handles District matters did not have an immediate reaction.

Darlene Nipper, deputy executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said gay rights groups would consider the District "a very important battleground" if Congress tries to intervene. But Nipper said she is increasingly optimistic that the political climate on Capitol Hill "has changed quite a bit in this new Congress and new administration."

Opponent Peter Sprigg said the D.C. Council displayed plenty of strategy with yesterday's vote. "What they have done seemed to be a little bit of a Trojan horse," said Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, a national conservative group against gay marriage.

"This was added as an amendment" and "suggests some real political maneuvering without subjecting it to public scrutiny," Sprigg said.

The D.C.-based Family Research Council, which condemned the Vermont and District actions, could try to get Congress involved or seek a public referendum, Sprigg said.

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