Gay Marriage Bill Unveiled Before Packed D.C. Council Chambers

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2009 3:12 PM

Dozens of activists on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate crammed into the D.C. Council chambers Tuesday to watch council member David A. Catania introduce his bill to allow same-sex couples to wed in the District.

Starting at 9 a.m., the activists filed into the John A. Wilson Building, eventually filling the chamber and spilling into the hallway.

But after months of anticipation, Catania's official introduction was fairly anticlimatic.

"We are about to embark on an exciting journey here in the city," Catania (I-At Large), who is openly gay, told the audience when he introduced his bill shortly after noon.

Catania's proposal is being co-sponsored by council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) and the other at-large members of the council -- Michael A. Brown (I), Kwame R. Brown (D) and Phil Mendelson (D).

Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) are also supporting the measure, virtually assuring it will be approved later this year. Council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) have declined to sign on as co-sponsors.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has vowed to sign the bill. Congress will have 30 legislative days to review the legislation and both Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have said there does not appear to be a strong movement to block it from becoming law.

After the bill was introduced, Evans recalled how far the gay rights movement has progressed in the city in recent years. He noted the District's sodomy law was not repealed until 1993.

"A series of bills over the years have brought a lot of changes," Evans said. "Today is a historic day . . . a culmination of all those efforts."

Graham, the other openly gay member on the council, grew emotional as he talked about the bill.

"As an openly gay member of this council who has gone through his own life with so many changes, it is just an incredible historical and important moment for me to be associated with this bill," he said.

But much of the action took place in the hallways after the official introduction as representatives from various gay rights and religious and political organizations competed for the media's attention.

Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, reiterated his push for a citywide referendum to outlaw gay marriage. The Board of Elections and Ethics plans to hold a hearing on Jackson's request Oct. 26.

If the board rejects his request for a public vote, Jackson has vowed that he will go to court to try to force a referendum.

"This is not a human rights battle," Jackson said. "It's a political battle."

Representatives for the Archdiocese of Washington and the Family Research Council also spoke out against the bill.

"The bill introduced today by some members of the District of Columbia City Council to redefine marriage is at odds with marriage's fundamental purpose," the Archdiocese said in a statement. "You cannot redefine biology."

Sultan Shakir of the Human Rights Campaign countered that Catania's bill sends "an important message that the District does not discriminate." Shakir said his organization will continue to resist Jackson's efforts to hold a referendum on the matter.

"We just don't think putting civil rights to a vote is good policy," Shakir said.

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