- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The D.C. Council on Tuesday gave final approval to a bill that would make the District the sixth jurisdiction in the country to permit same-sex marriages when it takes effect early next year.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said the mayor would sign the bill “as soon as he gets it,” at which point it can be submitted to Congress for a mandatory review period of 30 legislative days.

“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 Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, which has ushered the bill through the council, a process that included more than 18 hours of public testimony.

Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, 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.”

The bill passed on an 11-2 vote, with council members Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, dissenting. Both have cited the wills of their constituencies in overwhelmingly black D.C. neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River as reasons for voting against the bill.

Council member David A. Catania, who introduced the bill and is also openly gay, said he was “disappointed on a personal level” by Mr. Barry’s and Miss Alexander’s votes, but he commended them for their past support of the gay community.

Members of Congress could still block the law by enacting a joint resolution of disapproval that the president must sign during the 30-day review period. But even opponents of the bill have conceded that such a resolution would have little chance of making it through the Democrat-controlled Congress.

Council aides were unsure when the law would take affect. An aide to Mr. Catania estimated it could take until mid-March to accrue 30 legislative days, defined as days that either the House or the Senate is in session.

The number of days Congress has been in session around the holiday season has fluctuated in recent years. Last year, the House was in session just two days in December, but in December 2007 lawmakers were in session for 10 days. The Senate was in session 12 days in 2008 and 13 days in 2007.

So far this month the House has been in session 10 days, and the Senate has been in session every day, including weekends, as lawmakers work to pass health care reform legislation.

Bishop Harry Jackson, one of the main opponents of the bill and head of the Stand for Marriage DC coalition, said he is not watching the calendar.

“Our day is going to come when the people get to vote on this,” Mr. Jackson said, referring to efforts his group has made to put the issue to a referendum. “I think that’s what’s going to move people - outrage with a sense of urgency.”

The city’s Board of Elections and Ethics ruled against a bid to put on the ballot a voter initiative that would define marriage as a union only between a man and a woman.

Mr. Jackson unsuccessfully challenged the ruling in D.C. Superior Court, but he said he plans to seek a referendum that would put the same-sex marriage bill before city voters after the legislation is sent to Congress.

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

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

“What we saw in California was devastating,” said council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat. “Here in D.C. this issue belongs to all of us. The fight will continue, and we will have to be vigilant.”

The Catholic Church has argued that legalizing gay marriage would open it to legal liability 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, contrary to the Catholic faith.

“The archdiocese advocated for a bill that would balance the council’s interest in redefining marriage with the need to protect religious freedom. Regrettably, the bill did not strike that balance,” the Archdiocese of Washington said in a statement.

The bill was not amended to address the church’s concerns, but Mr. Mendelson said it had a lot of support within the faith community.

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