D.C. moves to recognize gay marriages

The D.C. City Council approved a bill to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states last week, setting the stage for a possible debate of the issue in Congress.

The council voted 12-1 on Tuesday to pass the bill, introduced by councilman Phil Mendelson, D-At Large, which would allow already-married gay couples from states that have legalized gay marriage to retain the rights and privileges afforded in those states. Maine, Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont have all legalized gay marriage.

Only councilman Marion Barry, D-Ward 8, voted against the measure. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty signed the bill the following day.

Because Congress has authority over D.C. lawmaking, the federal body has 30 days to review the bill. While that could prompt a heated gay marriage debate on a national scale, if Congress does not review the bill in 30 days, it loses its chance for oversight.

Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton, D-D.C., said in a news release she did not believe a serious attempt to overturn the bill would be made, but that the issue has proven to be divisive, sparking complaints from same-sex marriage opponents. More than 100 protestors from D.C.-area churches reportedly held a rally outside the building where the vote was taking place, but Republican lawmakers in Congress have remained largely silent on the issue.

President Barack Obama has not discussed the bill publicly, but many local Democrats have voiced their support for the measure.

“I think this is a very important step along our long journey to treat all of our residents as equal, full citizens in the District of Columbia,” councilman Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, said in an e-mail.

Peter Weiss, president of GW College Democrats, agreed with Evans’s take.

“As a progressive Democrat, I’m ecstatic. It’s a wonderful thing we’re dealing with,” Weiss said. “We’re going to have equality in our country. I think it’s great.”

But opponents disagree, saying the District has bigger issues to focus on.

“The D.C. City Council should be more concerned with its failing school system, urban poverty, reducing violent crime, than with political stunts,” said Brandon Hines, chairman of GW College Republicans. “Marriage is the foundation of the family and a sacred social and cultural institution. Amending this institution should be left to voters to decide, not liberal members of a city council that only represents one view on this issue.”

Despite heated debate over the bill, the final vote may be indicative of a larger movement toward legalizing gay marriage. Michael Komo, president of Allied in Pride, said the fact that D.C. was even voting on same-sex marriage issues was significant.

“When our nation’s capital recognizes same-sex marriages, to some extent, we know that we are doing something right,” Komo said in an e-mail. “The support for marriage equality is growing by the day.”

Komo, who worked with the Marriage Equality Coalition – a group within Allied in Pride – to collect signatures that were mailed to the City Council and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty before the vote, said legalizing same-sex marriage is a growing trend in the United States.

“One year ago, same-sex marriage was only legal in one state. Now, five states have legalized same-sex marriage, a couple of states have civil unions, a couples of states have domestic partnerships and other forms of recognition; and a couple of states, including D.C., recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions,” Komo said. “It is only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is legalized nationwide. It’s tough to wait, but I know that I will see same-sex marriage legalized nationwide in my lifetime.”

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