D.C. Council Approves Gay Marriage
||New York Times (NY)
||Thursday, December 17, 2009
The City Council passed a measure Tuesday legalizing same-sex marriage, making the nation’s capital the first jurisdiction below the Mason-Dixon Line to allow such unions.
The bill, which passed by an 11-to-2 vote, may still face obstacles in Congress, among city voters and in the courts, but most advocates of same-sex marriage say they expect it to become law by spring. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has said he will sign the bill.
“Today’s vote is an important victory not only for the gay and lesbian community but for everyone who supports equal rights,” said Councilman David A. Catania, an independent and the author of the bill.
Opponents have vowed to overturn the bill by putting it to a referendum or by working with Congress, which has a month to review the measure once it is signed.
The city already recognizes same-sex marriages performed in states where they are legal: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont. New Hampshire will begin allowing same-sex marriage early next year.
Republicans and conservative Democrats in the House, which oversees the District of Columbia’s budget, are considering a variety of legislative methods to block the bill, including adding a rider to future appropriations bills. But Democrats who support the measure can probably prevent that.
Other opponents vowed to continue fighting.
“The City Council’s action today is not the final word,” said Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., and chairman of a group called Stand4MarriageDC.
Mr. Jackson said he would lobby Congress to intervene, but he acknowledged that such a move threatened to upset some of his local supporters, who may be put off by the prospect of subverting local autonomy in Washington.
The city’s Board of Elections and Ethics decided not to hold a referendum on legalizing same-sex marriage, and Mr. Jackson’s group is challenging that decision in court on Jan. 6.
Councilman Catania opposes putting the matter to a popular vote. He noted that in a referendum in 1865, only 36 of the city’s residents voted to extend the franchise to African-American men.
“It isn’t that I’m fearful of losing,” Mr. Catania said. “I think the process is diminishing. I think that putting the rights of minorities on the ballot and allowing the forces of intolerance to spend an unlimited amount to demonize and marginalize a population is unsavory.”
In November, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington said that if the ordinance were passed, the church might have to limit its social service programs that help residents with adoption, homelessness and health care.
Under the bill, religious organizations would not be required to perform same-sex weddings or make space available for them. Officials from the archdiocese, however, said they feared that the ordinance might require them to extend employee benefits to same-sex married couples.
Other religious groups have endorsed the bill.
“Social justice and equality are goals for all people of faith, which is why so many religious leaders and faithful people in the District support this legislation,” said the Rev. Robert Hardies, senior pastor of All Souls Church Unitarian and a co-chairman of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality. “The D.C. marriage equality bill ends harmful discrimination against same-sex couples, and we celebrate the City Council for supporting the human rights of all residents.”
Same-sex marriage was briefly legalized in California until the policy was struck down in 2008. Last month, Maine voters repealed a similar bill, making their state the 31st to vote in a referendum to block gay and lesbian couples from marrying.