D.C. Council passes same-sex marriage bill

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The D.C. Council on Tuesday passed a same-sex marriage bill on a final vote of 11-2, prompting public witnesses in the Council chambers to erupt into cheers and extended applause.

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray allowed the applause for several seconds, then banged his gavel as the noise subsided and reminded the crowd that demonstrations are not allowed in the chambers. He chuckled as the crowd laughed in response.

The bill, which could be signed by the mayor as early as tonight, must go to Congress for a review period of 30 legislative days before it becomes law.

“Today is the final step in a long march toward equality,” said Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat.

Mr. Mendelson is chairman of the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which has been responsible for ushering the bill through the Council, a process that included hearing more than 18 hours of public testimony.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and one of two openly gay members of the Council, said the vote “culminates decades of work.”

“There’s a phrase ‘We’ve come a long way, baby.’ We’ve done more than that here in the District of Columbia,” Mr. Graham said. “In fact, we’ve come all the way.”

Council members Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, voted against the bill. Both have cited the wills of their constituencies as reasons for voting against the bill. Both Council members have come under fire for opposing the bill but have asked that detractors consider their entire records of service in support of issues of concern to the gay community.

“It bothers me when I’m castigated for dissent,” Mr. Barry said. “You judge a person by their entire record.”

Openly gay Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, said he was “disappointed on a personal level” by Mr. Barry’s and Miss Alexander’s votes but commended them for their past support of the gay community.

A Council aide said the bill could be signed and sent to Congress as early as Tuesday night. D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson, said the mayor would sign the bill “as soon as he gets it,” though she didn’t expect it to be Tuesday.

Council staffers said they expect same-sex couples to be able to start marrying in the District sometime in late February or early March but said the day the bill becomes law is a moving target that depends on Congress.

D.C. churches are exempt from having to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. But the bill does not have the support of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which has concerns about the cost of Catholic Charities having to extend services to spouses in same-sex marriages.

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

Same-sex marriage was approved last year in California, but the practice later was struck down by a voter referendum.

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