D.C. Council Votes to Allow Same-Sex Marriage, Mayor Fenty to Sign

Legislative and court victories mount despite losses at ballot box.

ByABC News
November 30, 2009, 9:08 PM

Dec. 15, 2009— -- The D.C. Council today voted overwhelmingly for the final time to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington D.C., with two council members opposing.

"This legislation is an important and historic step towards equal dignity, equal respect and equal rights for same-sex couples here in our nation's capital, which also preserves the right of clergy and congregations to adhere to their faiths," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

The legislation passed today would allow same-sex couples to be married in D.C., along with five other states, but not require clergy or religious organizations to provide services, accommodations, or facilities for the services.

The clear majority vote was not a surprise to oberservers who anticipated the bill's easy passage today. The night before, Councilmen Harry Thomas and David Catania addressed a rally of about 350 supporters at the Kennedy Recreation Center in Washington D.C.

Catania, one of two openly gay council members who first introduced the legislation, asked supporters not to hold the two opposing votes against Councilman Marion Barry and Councilwoman Yvette Alexander, and said that their "no" votes respected the wishes of their constituencies.

"I want to thank the two who are not with us. Not because they are not with us now. But because they have been with us so often on so many other issues," Catania said.

The historic legislation faces a series of hurdles before gays can officially tie the knot in the nation's capital.

Mayor Adrian Fenty, a Democrat, still must sign the bill into law, which he has pledged to do most likely before Christmas. From the time the mayor signs the gay-marriage bill, Congress will have 30 legislative days to enact a joint resolution of disapproval. President Obama would have to sign that resolution for the city law to be blocked.

If approved by the Democractic-controlled Congress as observers say they expect it will be, gay marriage is on track to become legal in Washington by late January, making it the first jurisdiction below the Mason-Dixon Line to allow full civil equality for gays and lesbians.

But even if a resolution of disapproval is not enacted, members of Congress can try to attach an anti-gay marriage rider to another piece of legislation.

The top Republican on the House subcommittee which oversees the district is considering a variety of legislative methods for blocking gay marriage there, including the appropriations process.

"Some people legitimately and often ask: 'Why is it that a congressman from Utah, or anyplace else, is sticking their nose in this?'' asked Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution says that in all cases, the Congress shall oversee the laws of Washington, D.C., and that is what we're trying to do."

While Chaffetz is confident that gay marriage could not survive an up or down vote in the Congress, the Utah Republican acknowledges that the House's liberal leadership will almost certainly thwart any efforts to block gay marriage from coming to a vote.

"I still think traditional marriage would win" if it were put to an up or down vote, said Chaffetz. But "procedurally, I think they've got an iron grip on their ability to block it from coming up for a vote," he added, referring to the House's Democratic leadership.

Beyond the efforts taking place in Congress, an additional anti-gay marriage effort is being made in D.C. Superior Court.

A group called Stand4MarriageDC wants a ballot measure which says that "only marriage between man and woman" should be "valid or recognized" in the city.

Last month, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled that allowing residents to vote on a gay marriage ban would violate Washington's 1977 Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination.

The Stand4MarriageDC group is now suing in Superior Court on the theory that if the Council has the right to change the law in order to allow same-sex couples to marry, then the people have the right to make laws on the same subject.