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D.C. Council Passage of Gay Marriage Bill All but Assured
After the council approved a bill in May legalizing same-sex marriages performed in other states, members of Congress from both parties largely steered clear of the issue. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was quoted as saying at the time that the District should be treated like a state.
But Congress intruded in another local matter when it attached an anti-gun control amendment to federal legislation that would give the city a full vote in the House.
Same-sex marriages are performed in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont. They will be legal in New Hampshire in January. The Maine legislature has approved same-sex marriage, but a referendum will be held on the measure in November.
Locally, Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, and several other African American ministers asked the Board of Elections and Ethics to authorize a ballot initiative defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. The Archdiocese of Washington is supporting the effort, but the city code prohibits a referendum on an issue covered by the Human Rights Act. The law protects gays and other minority groups from discrimination.
Gary R. Imhoff, a community activist from Columbia Heights, said the council could face a rebellion at the polls unless it authorizes a public vote. "There will definitely be a backlash because people will say: 'You didn't listen to us. You didn't even ask us, and you blocked our opportunity to vote,' " Imhoff said.
But the city's politically active gay community has spent decades working to elect like-minded officials, and there appears to be little appetite on the council for putting the issue on the ballot.
Rosenstein said he's not surprised that there are 10 co-sponsors, noting that the gay community has been preparing for this fight for years.
"Many of us in the community have made it known that part of the reason we have supported [council members] in the past is they have publicly supported marriage equality," Rosenstein said. "It's a question we have been asking them for many years."
The list of co-sponsors includes D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and all four-at large council members -- Catania, Kwame R. Brown (D), Michael A. Brown (I) and Phil Mendelson (D). Democratic members Jack Evans (Ward 2), Jim Graham (Ward 1), Tommy Wells (Ward 6) , Muriel Bowser (Ward 4) and Mary Cheh (Ward 3) also support the bill. And Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) backs same-sex marriage.
The three Democratic members who have not committed to supporting the bill -- Harry Thomas Jr. (Ward 5), Yvette M. Alexander (Ward 7) and Marion Barry (Ward 8) -- represent sections that have higher percentages of African American residents.
Catania said he is optimistic, however, that the final vote for his bill could be unanimous. Barry, for example, was the only council member this spring to vote against the new law allowing the District to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
In an interview Thursday, Barry said he is keeping an open mind on Catania's bill. "Let him introduce his bill, and we'll see," Barry said.
Mendelson, chairman of the Public Safety and the Judiciary Committee, said he will probably hold a hearing on Catania's bill next month so the public can testify. Although Mendelson said he believes that a majority of members "have clearly stated their opinions" on the issue, he said the "details will be important."
"I will look in particular at protecting religious freedoms for churches to be able to say yes or no to celebrating marriages consistent with their faith," Mendelson said.
Catania said he is buoyed by the fact that he has a super-majority standing with him.
"For me, I have to be honest, it's a particularly satisfying point in time to have a community and the council that is so committed to marriage equality," Catania said in an interview Thursday. "The debate is almost over here. The acceptance, while not universal, is substantial."