D.C. Council passes gay marriage bill; Congress can review law

By Brian Westley
Associated Press / May 6, 2009
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WASHINGTON - After an emotional debate, the D.C. Council gave final approval yesterday to legislation that recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

The vote is considered the first step toward allowing gay marriages to be performed in Washington. Congress, which has final say over the city's laws, gets 30 days to review the bill assuming Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty, a supporter, signs it.

If Congress takes no action, the bill will become law automatically. President Obama and congressional leaders have not signaled where they stand on the bill. Obama generally supports civil unions but has said marriage is between a man and a woman.

"The march toward equality is coming to this country, and you can either be a part of it or stand in the way," said David Catania, one of two openly gay D.C. Council members.

Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Iowa already allow gay marriage and lawmakers in several other states are considering whether to do the same. New York recognizes gay marriages performed in other states.

The D.C. Council vote was 12 to 1, with former Mayor Marion Barry casting the lone opposing vote. Barry, a longtime supporter of the gay community, called it an "agonizing and difficult decision" that he made after praying and consulting with his constituents and the religious community.

Catania called the issue one of fairness and said it's about acknowledging that his family is just as valid as anybody else's.

Gay-marriage supporters greeted the vote with applause, but they were outnumbered at City Hall by outraged opponents, including many black ministers.

The Rev. Anthony Evans, a pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Washington, vowed to make sure the legislation dies in Congress and said he will work to unseat every D.C. Council member who voted for it.

The congressional review could be the new Congress's first opportunity to signal its appetite for reexamining the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows states to do the same.

US Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is openly gay, said he expects congressional opponents of gay marriage to rally to repeal the city's decision, but doubts they'll get very far.