Gay marriage advances in D.C. Council

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A D.C. Council committee voted Tuesday to send a bill legalizing same-sex marriage to the full council for debate, clearing the way for a final decision next month.

The vote by the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary was 4 to 1. Council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) was the lone dissenter.

Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), the chairman of the committee, called the legislation "both simple and monumental." The bill would allow any two legally qualified individuals to marry, "regardless of gender."

With the committee action, the full council will take up the measure in early December.

The legislation has the support of at least 10 of 13 council members. If it survives congressional review, officials said, same-sex couples will be allowed to marry in the District by spring.

"We will get this to the mayor and Congress, and it will become law," said council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).

Before the committee vote, Alexander unsuccessfully pushed an amendment that would have allowed any individual to decline to provide services related to same-sex weddings.

The bill allows only religious organizations and religious officials to deny "services, accommodations, facilities, or goods" for same-sex weddings. Broadening that exemption to individuals, Mendelson and others said, would have opened the door to discrimination.

Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, said the Catholic Church will continue to press for inclusion of Alexander's amendment. Without the amendment, she said, the city would violate federal laws guaranteeing religious freedom.

Gay rights activists disagreed with Gibbs. "Any individual could have just cited their religious beliefs as an excuse to ignore the Human Rights Act," said Richard J. Rosendall, a vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C., referring to the 1977 law that protects gays and other minorities from discrimination.

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