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Washington Mayor Fenty signs same-sex marriage bill

By Tim Craig, Nikita Stewart and Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 19, 2009; B01

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on Friday signed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the District, equating the hurdles confronting gay couples to those his parents faced when they married four decades ago as an interracial couple.

With his parents and D.C. Council members looking on, Fenty (D) signed multiple copies of the bill in the sanctuary of All Souls Unitarian church in Mount Pleasant -- a location he said he selected as representative of the many churches that embrace gay rights.

Fenty and other city officials said they want the District to provide a road map for gay rights activists as the debate over same-sex marriage -- now legal in only a handful of states -- moves across the nation, including possibly to Maryland.

"Marriage inequality is a civil rights, political, social, moral and religious issue in this country and many nations," Fenty said. "And as a I sign this act into law, the District, from this day forward, will set the tone for other jurisdictions to follow in creating an open and inclusive city."

In an unusually emotional speech for Fenty, the mayor said his parents moved from Buffalo to Washington in 1967 because they wanted to marry and their parents were furious about their interracial relationship.

"My parents know a little something about marriage equality," Fenty told about 150 activists and gay couples who crammed into the church.

Phil Fenty, who is black, and Jan Fenty, who is white, said they had not attended any other bill-signing ceremony in the three years their son has been mayor. But they had to be there Friday, they said, and they were proud that their son had embraced the lessons of equality he was taught as a boy.

"We just lived our lives. He saw it, and now he's living it," said Jan Fenty.

Fenty's signature means the bill, approved Tuesday in an 11 to 2 council vote, will become law in the spring if it clears a congressional review period. Fenty said Friday that he is almost certain that the Democratic-controlled Congress will not intervene.

Bishop Harry Jackson, a leading same-sex marriage opponent, issued a statement shortly after Fenty signed the bill, vowing to continue the fight in Congress and the courts.

"The people of D.C. do not support same-sex marriage, and they are entitled to vote on this issue," said Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville.

But there were signs that another controversy surrounding the legislation -- whether the Catholic Church will end its social service contracts with the city -- might be subsiding.

After initially saying that city-church contracts were threatened by the measure, church officials Friday appeared to take a more conciliatory tone.

Officials from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities said they expect to find a way to continue the multimillion-dollar contracts, but they did not offer specifics or say why things had suddenly become less precarious.

"We're in the business of hope," said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl.

Neither Gibbs nor Erik Salmi, a spokesman for Catholic Charities, would elaborate on what options they were considering.

Speculations about the archdiocese's strategy included the possibility that it would remain in the contract and wait for the city to sue if, for example, a church employee's gay partner were denied spousal benefits. That would put the city, not the church, in the position of appearing to sacrifice services provided to some of the city's poorest residents.

"I think they're going to do what they've done [in performing social services] and see if the city tries to intervene," said Stephen Schneck, director of the Life Cycle Institute at Catholic University. "I think its a tone change. My gut feeling is they are trying to live with this somehow."

Fenty's decision to sign the bill in a church offended some people on both sides of the debate. All Souls, founded in 1821, has deep ties to the city's progressive and gay communities. Fenty's parents, longtime activists, said they often took Fenty to women's liberation and peace rallies at the church when he was growing up.

But the Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said Fenty was sending a signal "that one set of religious beliefs trumps another and that marriage is strictly a religious act."

"Faith is not a political tool," said Gaddy, a supporter of same-sex marriage.

On the sidewalk in front All Souls, the Rev. Rob Schenck staged a one-man protest against same-sex marriage. "I think this is particularly sad because it contradicts what the church, Christianity and all churches have been teaching for a millennia on marriage," said Schenck, president of Faith Action in the Nation's Capital, a conservative religious group.

The Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the Black Church Initiative, accused Fenty of acting like the "pope."

In an interview after the bill-signing, Fenty said he it is important to recognize "that people from all different backgrounds" support same-sex marriage.

Although Jackson and other opponents tended to dominate the headlines, more than 200 local faith leaders joined to form Clergy United for Marriage.

The Rev. Rob Hardies, pastor of All Souls Unitarian, said he and the Rev. Christine Wiley, co-pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Southeast, decided to form the group when they overheard a protest by Jackson in front of the Wilson Building in May.

"We wanted to dispel the rumor that you cannot be pro-God and pro-gay," Hardies said.

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