A bill to allow same-sex couples to marry in the District was introduced in the D.C. Council Tuesday which, if enacted, would make D.C. the first city below the Mason-Dixon line to allow gay marriage.
The bill has the support from 10 of the 13 councilmembers and D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Councilmember David Catania, one of two openly gay D.C. councilmembers, introduced the bill and said he expects a vote by December. Congress, which has jurisdiction over lawmaking in the District, has 30 days to present a joint measure of disapproval for the bill, which President Barack Obama would also have to sign for the bill to be blocked.
The bill, titled “The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009,” redefines marriage in the District as “the legally recognized union of two people. Any person who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements… may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender.”
The bill goes on to stipulate that no religious leader “shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
If enacted, D.C. would join states that have already legalized same-sex marriages, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont. As of January 2010, New Hampshire will also begin issuing same-sex marriages.
Gay rights groups on campus groups have already expressed their support of the legislation, including Allied in Pride.
“It will be extremely significant if the capital of the United States legalizes same-sex marriage,” said Michael Komo, the president of Allied in Pride. “It will send a strong message to the rest of the nation – and the world – about equality for same-sex couples.”
Komo said his group lobbies and works closely with the D.C. Council on matters of gay rights.
The bill is not without controversy, however, and some religious groups in the District are still opposed to the legislation.
The Archdiocese of Washington is one of the most outspoken critics of the bill’s redefinition of marriage.
“Marriage between a man and a woman transcends cultures, religions and all time. Marriage is about more than two people who love and are committed to each other,” the Archdiocese said in a statement on the bill.
GW Catholic Newman Center leader, Father Greg Shaffer said the Newman Center supported the Archdiocese of Washington’s position but that the group would not be participating in demonstrations against the bill.
Some ministers from within D.C. and in other states have been protesting the bill and sent a letter to the D.C. Board of Elections requesting that the bill be put to a public vote for D.C. residents. The city has not yet responded.