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“Whenever this issue, this debate, this question is put to the people of any jurisdiction, of any state, when they get to decide the people have said marriage should be what marriage has always been,” he said.

A petition for a referendum on the subject of same-sex marriage was filed last month with the District’s Board of Elections and Ethics by a coalition of religious leaders.

Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. of the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville has led the effort against same-sex marriage and called again Thursday for the subject to be put before the voters.

“We’re dealing with an issue that should be a major, major foundational issue to our culture - marriage and its definition. It seems just a little bit unwise for a small group of people to confer among themselves and vote on it,” Mr. Jackson said.

A D.C. Superior Court judge in July rejected an effort by Mr. Jackson and others to put to a public vote the council’s bill granting recognition to same-sex marriages performed in other states, saying the public vote would violate the District’s Human Rights Act.

Mr. Catania said he was mindful of religious freedom when crafting the bill. He said the bill provides that no church or member of the clergy shall be required to perform or recognize a marriage that runs counter to religious beliefs or teachings. The city also will stop registering new domestic partners after Jan. 1, 2011, but will continue to recognize those domestic partners already registered.

Council Member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat who chairs the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which will likely be assigned to consider the bill, said he will hold public hearings as soon as possible.

He said he expected that the bill would be voted out of committee and presented to the entire council in time for a first vote at the Dec. 1 legislative session. He said the council could hold the required second vote later that month, but no additional council meeting is scheduled.

Mr. Fenty has expressed support for same-sex marriage legislation and is expected to sign a bill approved by the council.