D.C. Council Votes to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages Performed Elsewhere
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The D.C. Council overwhelmingly approved a bill yesterday to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, in a vote that followed a sharp exchange between an openly gay member and a civil rights champion and set off shouts of reproach from local ministers.
The council passed the measure by a vote of 12 to 1. During the debate, council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) accused Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who cast the dissenting vote, of having taken a "bigoted" position.
After the vote, enraged African American ministers stormed the hallway outside the council chambers and vowed that they will work to oust the members who supported the bill, which was sponsored by Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). They caused such an uproar that security officers and D.C. police were called in to clear the hallway.
Yesterday's action could be a precursor to a debate later this year over whether to legalize same-sex marriage in the city. "There is no turning back," said Catania, who plans to introduce a broader gay marriage bill in a few months.
Barry, who said he supports gay rights and civil unions, warned after the vote that the District could erupt if the council does not proceed slowly on same-sex marriage.
"All hell is going to break lose," Barry said. "We may have a civil war. The black community is just adamant against this."
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has said he will sign the bill recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. The council's action puts the matter before Congress, which under the Home Rule Charter has 30 days to review District legislation. The bill could present the House and Senate with their biggest test on the same-sex marriage issue since Congress approved the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
At least one GOP member said yesterday that he will try to block the bill from becoming law.
"Some things are worth fighting for, and this is one of them," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), the ranking Republican on a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees the District. "It's not something I can let go softly into the night. . . . I recognize the Democrats are in the majority, but I represent the majority of Americans on this issue."
Several council members and gay rights advocates are hopeful that the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will be able to stop congressional intervention.
"I do not believe that a serious attempt to overturn the council bill will be made or will be successful," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who praised the council's decision.
But the emotional debate that took place yesterday at the Wilson Building suggests that the issue could be divisive in a city with a long history of racial tension in politics.