- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The D.C. Council gave tentative approval Tuesday to a bill that would allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the District of Columbia.

The bill passed 11-2 and faces a final vote that is scheduled tentatively for Dec. 15.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, has said he will sign the bill, which would go into effect after a mandatory 30-day congressional review period.

If approved, the District of Columbia will join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont in performing same-sex marriages. New Hampshire will begin performing same-sex marriages in January.

“I don’t think it’s a giant step, it’s a final step,” said council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat. “This is a civil right.”

The District’s bill redefines marriage as “the legally recognized union of two people” who meet the eligibility requirements “regardless of gender.”

Under the bill, religious officials may choose whether to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies but are not required to if doing so would contradict their faith.

Mr. Mendelson, chairman of the council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, held more than 18 hours of public testimony on the subject, which has drawn fire from religious groups, particularly local, black Christian churches and the Catholic Church.

Council members Yvette Alexander, Ward 7 Democrat, and Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, cast the dissenting votes. Both have cited the will of their overwhelmingly black constituencies as the reason for their opposition.

Mr. Barry pointed to his record as a civil rights leader and said he has supported the gay community on many issues but could not vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

“This community is deeply divided on this issue,” he said, “and it to some extent cuts across racial lines, unfortunately. It’s not fair to make this one issue a litmus test as to one’s commitment to human rights — to justice.”

The Catholic Church has argued that legalizing gay marriage will prevent it from operating in the District of Columbia 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, which is contrary to the Catholic faith. The bill was not amended to address the church’s concerns.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, who introduced the bill in October with the support of nine council members, said Tuesday he still is open to any language that could “perfect the religious freedom notion” of the bill.

“I have a deep and abiding respect for faith and the role it plays in our lives,” he said.

• David C. Lipscomb can be reached at .

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