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Timing Is Seen As Key in D.C., Vt. Votes on Gay Marriage

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 9, 2009

D.C. Council member David A. Catania and Peter Shumlin, president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate, met at Sarducci's restaurant in Montpelier two weeks ago and discussed gay marriage legislation in their jurisdictions.

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In movements such as the decades-long fight for gay rights, there are orchestrated moments, and there are moments of opportunity. The story of Catania (I-At Large) and Shumlin (D) and the news made this week in their jurisdictions may fall somewhere in between. The two men have been talking about pushing gay marriage since they met seven years ago.

On Tuesday, the District and Vermont delivered a one-two punch that, combined with the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage, has buoyed supporters and angered opponents.

Vermont legislators overrode Republican Gov. Jim Douglas's veto of a gay marriage bill, making the state the fourth in the country to legalize same-sex nuptials.

The D.C. Council unanimously approved legislation that would recognize the nuptials of gay couples performed in other states, paving the way for a District gay marriage law, which Catania plans to introduce this year.

Catania, Shumlin and other advocates said that Tuesday's actions hinged on one factor: timing.

"Frankly, the barrier in the past was a Republican-controlled Congress and White House," said Catania, who is gay and quit the GOP in 2004 when President George W. Bush called for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. "In November, a fantastic thing happened."

The nation's capital, where local laws are subject to congressional approval, could be the ultimate litmus test. But others say they worry that the city's action could force congressional leaders to weigh in on the issue.

Former U.S. representative Tom Davis (R) of Virginia said the District's efforts to get voting rights in Congress, which he supports, could be hurt by the push for gay marriage.

Three years ago, Davis said, he urged then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and Catania to hold off on a gay marriage debate to avoid battling Congress.

"But now, I think they think they are on a roll," Davis said, "and there is such a large constituency for it in the District that feels quite strongly about it."

In December, Catania began meeting with a dozen local and national advocates to discuss drafting a bill that would legalize gay marriage. He said he had hoped to introduce a measure in January, but he and others agreed that the timing was still off because of the District's renewed push for voting rights.

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