D.C. Council approves same-sex marriage bill
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The D.C. Council voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage in the District, a key step in a process that could enable gay couples to marry in the nation's capital by the spring.
After months of debate, the council passed the legislation 11 to 2 after a lively discussion that elicited passionate statements from members about the historical significance of their action.
A second vote, scheduled in two weeks, is necessary for the measure to become law. The bill's sponsors said final passage is almost certain, although the bill could be tweaked. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has said he will sign it.
The bill will also be subject to a 30-day congressional review period, but officials in both parties said it is unlikely that the Democratic majority in Congress will block the measure. The District would join New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Massachusetts in allowing same-sex marriage. It would be the first jurisdiction in the region to do so.
"This is a culmination of the entire gay rights movement," Richard J. Rosendall, a past president of the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance of Washington D.C., said after the vote. "We have spent many, many, years working toward this."
Same-sex marriage opponents, including the Archdiocese of Washington and dozens of other religious leaders, conceded that they are running out of time and options to stop the bill from becoming law.
"In a sense, they won two or three years ago . . . behind the scenes," said Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville and one of the most visible opponents of the bill. He said that only Congress or the courts can slow the city's march toward legalizing same-sex marriage. "Our only options are legal."
Council members and gay rights activists hailed the vote as the end of a decades-long struggle that started in 1975, when then-council member Arrington Dixon (D) first proposed legalizing same-sex marriage in the District.
That proposal was shouted down by city religious leaders, council members said, but in the meantime, city leaders have been laying the groundwork for Tuesday's decision, including authorizing domestic partnerships in 1992, repealing a ban on sodomy a year later and passing a bill this year to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
"It really speaks to the long and rich tradition of tolerance and acceptance that does make up the sense of place in the District of Columbia," council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), the chief sponsor of the bill, said before the vote.
But the council's action did little to bridge divisions in the city over the legislation.
The two council members who represent majority-black wards east of the Anacostia River -- Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) -- voted against the legislation.