- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

For a break-down of Tuesday’s vote, click here.

The D.C. Council Tuesday gave final approval to legislation recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions and paved the way for an effort to allow such unions to be performed in the nation’s capital - an effort one council member said could prompt “civil war” in the city.

A majority of the 13-member council likely would support gay marriages taking place in the District, a poll of council members and staffers by The Washington Times showed Tuesday. Six council members said they would vote for a gay-marriage bill, with two more saying they were likely to vote for such a bill. Five council members said they were undecided on the issue.

An overwhelming majority of 12 members voted Tuesday to recognize other states’ gay marriages, although the legislation still faces congressional review.

“As much as people don’t want to say it is, this was a vote on same-sex marriage” in the District, said Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat.

D.C. Council member Marion Barry, who told reporters after the vote that approving gay marriage could lead to civil war, said later that he was “just jiving” when he made the comment. But he said the issue will be contentious in the District, with its majority black population.

“I think it’s going to be divided along racial lines because the black community is so strongly against it,” said Mr. Barry, Ward 8 Democrat. Socially conservative black voters played a key role in passing a November referendum in California that prohibited gay marriage in that state.

The divisiveness of the issue was evident in the council chamber, where the vote was greeted with applause by supporters. Opponents of the legislation also packed the room, and loudly pledged political retribution outside in the hallway for council members who voted in favor.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray suspended the session until order was restored by police officers and security guards, who kept a watchful eye as tensions escalated.

“Bottom line, they just kissed themselves goodbye,” said the Rev. Anthony Evans, an associate minister at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Northwest.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is expected to sign the recognition measure, which then will be sent to Capitol Hill, where Congress has oversight of city legislation. In order to block a D.C. law, members of Congress must enact a joint resolution disapproving the council act within 30 days, and the president must approve the resolution.

The review period will serve as a test for the council’s plans to consider a measure authorizing gay marriages to be performed in the city. Council member David A. Catania has said he plans to gauge Congress’ reaction to the recognition measure before he introduces the marriage legislation sometime later this year.

A senior Republican congressional aide told The Times that given the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, it is unlikely Congress would take “proactive measures” to block same-sex marriage measures in the District or elsewhere. Such an action “could spell trouble for red-state Democrats who are in cycle and uninterested in taking a position on this very contentious issue,” the aide said.

The Associated Press reported that Rep. Barney Frank, who is openly gay, said he expects congressional opponents of gay marriage to press Congress to roll back the city’s decision, but doubts they’ll get very far.

“For this to be overturned, it’d have to pass both houses and be signed by the president, and that’s highly unlikely,” said Mr. Frank, Massachusetts Democrat.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, also said she does not expect serious opposition to the bill.

“While it is always wise to be strategic on matters that come before Congress, I do not believe that a serious attempt to overturn the council bill will be made or would be successful,” said Mrs. Norton, a Democrat.

The D.C. bill would allow same-sex couples in the city to marry in states where such unions are legal and then return to the District and have that marriage recognized. Gay marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont.

“Many of you are taking positions that are not comfortable or easy, and I appreciate that,” Mr. Catania, one of two openly gay members on the council, said before the vote. “But it is the right thing to do on behalf of all our families, because we will be stronger when we are all equal.”

The measure initially was passed unanimously without comments before Mr. Barry requested that it be reconsidered, and roughly 20 minutes of emotional debate ensued before the bill was approved.

After Mr. Barry spoke about his reasons for opposing the bill, Mr. Catania noted that the issue was one “that affects some of us very personally.”

“To bring in the issue of morality, I think it is immoral for you to be my friend on the one hand and on the other say: ‘You are not entitled to the same rights and obligations that I am,’ ” he said.

Said Mr. Barry: “I resent that implication that because you’re not over here on this particular issue, you are not treating us equally. That is not fair at all.”

“Your position is bigoted,” Mr. Catania later said. “I don’t believe you are.”

Even before the council took up the bill, roughly 75 area pastors and residents opposed to same-sex marriage gathered across the street from city hall in Freedom Plaza Tuesday morning.

Pastor Terry Wayne Millender, of Victorious Life Church in Alexandria, said his congregation includes D.C. residents and he attended the rally to oppose the council’s official sanctioning of same-sex marriage.

“Gay activists are suggesting we’re here to shut down their right to live a homosexual lifestyle. That’s not the deal,” Mr. Millender said. “Don’t project your lifestyle and desire to live out a homosexual lifestyle through legislation on my grandchildren.”

D.C. resident Carol Fillmore of Northwest said she objects to the council making the decision to recognize gay unions, instead of bringing the issue to a citywide vote.

“The Bible says ‘man and woman,’ not ‘woman-woman,’ ‘man-man,’ ” said Ms. Fillmore, 62.

Supporters of the bill also gathered outside city hall Tuesday morning and attended the hearing. Dupont Circle resident Ed Grandis, who married his partner J.D. Campos in California in July, said the issue was one of equal protection by the government, similar to the protections afforded for religious freedom.

“It really works as a balance,” Mr. Grandis said. “Let them fight it.”

Peter D. Rosenstein, a gay community activist, said Tuesday’s opposition to the measure was not a surprise, but that it was not indicative of the city’s feelings as a whole.

“I really believe that most of the people in the District of Columbia believe in equality, and they do believe in the separation of church and state,” Mr. Rosenstein said.

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