DC Passes Gay Marriage; Congress to Weigh In
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« on: December 16, 2009, 02:42:05 am »

WASHINGTON (Dec. 15) -- In a vote that sets up the first test of gay marriage in the U.S. Congress, the District of Columbia City Council on Tuesday voted to make same-sex marriage legal in the nation's capital.

The 11-2 decision, the second of two decisions by the council, clears the way for Mayor Adrian Fenty to sign the bill into law. That starts a 30-day review period in Congress, but advocates expect the Democratic majority on Capitol Hill to allow the measure to become law in March.

"We are on the verge of history," Councilman David Catania told a pre-vote rally Monday night.

"Today's victory means a great deal, coming after marriage equality losses in New York and Maine," Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign said in an e-mail to supporters.

The vote was a bright spot for gay-rights activists who have suffered a string of recent setbacks in Maine, New York and New Jersey. If Congress sits on its hands as expected, the district will become the fourth jurisdiction, along with Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa, where gays can marry. Next month, same-sex couples in New Hampshire will be able to wed.

The vote came after negotiations between the City Council and the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington failed to reach agreement. Local Catholic leaders had worried that the bill, which exempts priests from being forced to perform same-sex ceremonies, would force Catholic Charities to extend benefits and adoption services to same-sex couples.

The archdiocese had threatened to withhold social services over the gay marriage bill but appeared to soften its position on its Web site after the vote.

"The archdiocese advocated for a bill that would balance the council's interest in redefining marriage with the need to protect religious freedom. Regrettably, the bill did not strike that balance," the statement said, adding however, that, "the Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities are deeply committed to serving those in need, regardless of race, creed, gender, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. This commitment is integral to our Catholic faith and will remain unchanged into the future."

Former Mayor Marion Barry and another African-American council member voted against the bill, echoing opposition from some black ministers who reject the argument of gay activists that the fight for same-sex marriage is a matter of civil rights.

The gay marriage vote was just the latest hot-button issue that will tell whether district residents are gaining more say in their local governance. Last week, Congress passed a spending bill that stripped away a ban on the use of medicinal marijuana in the capital and also gave residents more say on issues such as abortion funding and school vouchers.

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