- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Same-sex marriages could be performed in the District by early next year after a landmark vote Tuesday by the D.C. Council to make the city the sixth jurisdiction in the United States to legalize such unions.

The bill, which passed the 13-member council on an 11-2 vote, faces a second council vote Dec. 15, when it will almost certainly be approved. D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has pledged to sign the legislation, which would take effect after a mandatory 30-day congressional review period.

If approved, the District will join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont in performing same-sex marriages. New Hampshire will begin performing them in January.

“I don’t think it’s a giant step; it’s a final step,” said council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “This is a civil right.”

The District currently recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Assuming the bill proceeds in a timely manner, same-sex marriage ceremonies could be performed in the city as early as late January, said an aide to Mr. Mendelson, whose council committee was charged with vetting the bill.

The legislation redefines marriage in the District as “the legally recognized union of two people” who meet the eligibility requirements “regardless of gender.”

Under the bill, religious officials may choose whether they perform same-sex marriage ceremonies but are not required to if doing so would contradict their faith.

Council members Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, cast the two dissenting votes. Both have cited the will of their overwhelmingly black constituencies as the reason for their opposition.

Mr. Barry pointed to his record as a civil rights leader and said he has supported the gay community on many issues but could not vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

“This community is deeply divided on this issue. And it to some extent cuts across racial lines, unfortunately,” Mr. Barry said. “It’s not fair to make this one issue a litmus test as to one’s commitment to human rights - to justice.”

Other opponents of the measure say they are girding for a fight that could take them into next year and into the next session of Congress.

Bishop Harry Jackson, head of Stand for Marriage DC, said his organization is considering all legal options to strike down same-sex marriage.

“I won’t take anything off the table at this time,” Mr. Jackson said after the vote Tuesday. “We’re not beyond any technique as long as it’s legal.”

Mr. Jackson declined to elaborate on what tactics he would use, saying only that he is speaking with members of Congress to try to enlist Republicans and moderate Democrats to discuss a strategy to thwart the bill during the 30-day review period.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on the federal workforce, Postal Service and District of Columbia, said the group in Congress that opposes gay marriage will not give up easily, despite the fact that a resolution opposing the measure has little hope of making it to the president’s desk.

“I think if we’re locked out of the process for bringing it for a vote now, we’ll bring it up later,” he said.

“There are creative ways to block this. We’re going to try to pursue all of those.”

Mr. Chaffetz and Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, have introduced a bill in the House that defines marriage in the District as between a man and a woman. Mr. Chaffetz said he and Mr. Jordan will change tactics in the new year.

If all else fails, Mr. Chaffetz said they will wait until the majority changes in Congress to undo the District’s marriage legislation.

“It’s our duty, our responsibility,” he said.

Ilir Zherka, executive director of the D.C. statehood advocacy group DC Vote, said he also expects opponents of same-sex marriage to look for clever end-arounds to stop same-sex marriages in the District if Republicans regain power in Congress.

“They are likely to look at other tried, tested and effective ways,” Mr. Zherka said. “The budget process - I think that’s where opponents will probably look.”

The Catholic Church has argued that legalizing gay marriage will prevent it from operating in the District because the church will not extend benefits to same-sex married couples employed by Catholic schools.

The church also has said the bill would force it to offer social services, such as adoption services, to same-sex couples, which is contrary to the Catholic faith. The bill was not amended to address the church’s concerns.

Council member David Catania, the at-large Democrat who introduced the bill in October with the support of nine council members, said Tuesday that he still is open to any language that could “perfect the religious freedom notion” of the bill.

“I have a deep and abiding respect for faith and the role it plays in our lives,” he said.

Sarah Abruzzese contributed to this report.

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