- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Gay-marriage advocates scored major victories in the District and Vermont on Tuesday, with the passage of legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry in Vermont and the approval of a bill that would see those marriages recognized in the nation's capital.

The developments came just days after the Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage on Friday, ruling that a state law restricting marriage to a union of a man and a woman violated the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.

If signed by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the D.C. bill would allow same-sex couples in the city to marry in states such as Iowa and Vermont and then return to the District and have that marriage recognized.

"It is the next logical step in the extension of marriage equality," said council member David Catania, an at-large independent who said he plans this year to introduce legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in the District. "It is simply a matter of time."

D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said both he and Mr. Fenty support the measure, which will come up for a final vote next month. Mr. Fenty said in a statement that he looks forward to signing the bill.

"The mayor will sign," Mr. Nickles said. The bill "requires that we accord the same benefits to couples whose same-sex marriage has been recognized and performed in other jurisdictions."

Gay marriage is legal in Connecticut, Massachusetts and now in Iowa and Vermont.

Vermont lawmakers Tuesday voted to override a veto by Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, and allow same-sex marriages. House lawmakers voted 100-49 to override the veto, and the Senate voted 23-5 to do the same. The action made the state the fourth to legalize gay marriage and the first to legalize it by legislative action.

Mr. Douglas on Monday issued a veto message saying the bill would not improve conditions for same-sex couples because it still would not provide them rights under federal and other states' laws.

The Associated Press reported that the announcement of the vote brought an outburst of jubilation from some of the hundreds packed into the gallery and the lobby outside the House chamber, despite the speaker's admonishment against such displays.

Among the celebrants in the lobby were former state Rep. Robert Dostis and his longtime partner, Chuck Kletecka.

"It's been a very long battle. It's been almost 20 years to get to this point," Mr. Dostis said. "I think finally, most people in Vermont understand that we're a couple like any other couple."

The District's approval came when council members voted 12-0 in favor of an amendment to a bill introduced by Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, that says the city will recognize "a marriage legally entered into in another jurisdiction between two persons of the same sex that is recognized as valid in that jurisdiction" if the union is not expressly prohibited by sections of D.C. law.

City code prohibits some marriages, including those that take place between people younger than 16, those that involve fraud and those that include a mentally ill person. Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, was absent from the vote but has signed on to the measure.

Mr. Catania said he expects a bill to be introduced that would legalize same-sex marriage in the District in the spring or summer. He said he expects no opposition from Mr. Fenty on the full marriage bill.

However, council members said they are wary about the reception on Capitol Hill of legislation involving same-sex marriage.

Congress, which has authority over D.C. legislation, prohibited the District from spending any of its own funds to implement a 1992 law that allowed same-sex couples to register as domestic partners until the ban was lifted in fiscal 2002.

Federal lawmakers more recently have intervened in D.C. affairs by amending legislation that would grant the District a vote in Congress with a measure that would gut the city's gun laws. Mr. Catania said he hopes to see the voting rights issue resolved before introducing a same-sex marriage bill.

In order to block a D.C. law, members of Congress must enact a joint resolution disapproving the council act during a 30-day review period and the president must approve the resolution.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Edolphus Towns, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform - which has oversight over D.C. affairs through a subcommittee - said the chairman was "currently reviewing [Tuesday's] decision and not yet prepared to comment."

A senior Republican congressional aide also said that a move to block same-sex marriage in the city likely will not happen with Democrats in the majority.

"Given the large Democrat majorities in the House and Senate, it is unlikely that they would take proactive measures to block same-sex marriage in D.C. or elsewhere," the aide said.

Michael Crawford, head of the grass-roots activist organization D.C. for Marriage, said Tuesday's legislation likely will serve as a "bellwether" for Congress' leanings toward same-sex marriage in the nation's capital.

"I think this is something that, ideally, members of Congress will stay out of and hopefully allow the elected representatives of the District to decide what our laws should be," Mr. Crawford said. "However, we know that's not always the case."

Mr. Crawford said his group has encountered "overwhelming support" for gay marriage in the District, and any opposition is most likely to come from groups outside the city.

Peter Sprigg of the District-based Family Research Council said the D.C. Council's Tuesday actions were "like a Trojan horse for same-sex marriage."

"As we've seen today in Vermont and other places, these incremental steps like domestic partnerships and civil unions were once sold to some politicians as a way of stalling same-sex marriage, but it's becoming clear that instead, they simply pave the way for it," Mr. Sprigg said.

Bruce Hausknecht, an analyst for the Colorado-based organization Focus on the Family Action, said "it has been a bad week for traditional marriage in this country."

"It says that we believe as the government that it isn't necessary for you to be raised by a mom and dad, just two adults," Mr. Hausknecht said. "That's contrary to everything that social science has been teaching us for the last 30 years."

The council last year gave Mr. Fenty authority to recognize gay relationships as legally legitimate if they are "substantially similar" to domestic partnerships already recognized as legal by the District, but the mayor had not used the authority as of last month.

Mr. Nickles said there had been concerns that the bill was unclear and could lead to the loss of federal funding, but the administration was assured that would not happen and now supports the measure.

Mr. Mendelson called Tuesday's action a "simple step" toward marriage equality for gay couples. He also said if Congress interferes with the city's legislation, lawmakers would be injecting themselves into the actions of other jurisdictions as well: For example, New York has not legalized same-sex marriages but still recognizes unions performed elsewhere.

"We've done the right thing," said council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. "My job here is to vote my conscience. They should do their job as they see fit."

c S.A. Miller and Mark Chenoweth contributed to this report.

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