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DC continues toward marriage equality
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DC continues toward marriage equality

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The District of Columbia continued its advance toward marriage equality when the DC City Council passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage for the second time on Tuesday, December 15.

DC rules require bills to be passed twice by the City Council and to be reviewed by Congress before becoming law. Like the December 1 vote on the marriage equality bill, Tuesday's vote was a lopsided 11-2.

Current City Council member and former DC Mayor Marion Barry was one of the two No votes. The other was Council member Yvette M. Alexander.

DC Mayor Adrian M. Fenty promised to sign the measure by the end of the week.

NGLTF Executive Director Rea Carey pronounced herself "thrilled," and GLAAD's Jarret Barrios congratulated "DC For Marriage, Campaign for All DC Families and the organizations and couples whose personal stories moved the council to today's historic vote."

Opponents of marriage equality are reportedly meeting with members of Congress to urge them to overturn the bill. The lobbying effort is being organized by a group called Stand4Marriage, led by local pastor Bishop Harry Jackson.

Marriage equality opponents face an uphill battle. Congress would need to pass its own bill overturning the DC bill, and it would have to be signed by President Obama. Neither seems likely, and if Congress does not act within 30 days, the DC bill will become law.

An attorney for Stand4Marriage, Cleta Mitchell, said that after the bill goes to Congress, the group will ask the DC Board of Elections to allow a referendum asking voters to overturn the measure.

Stand4Marriage made a similar request this summer, when DC passed a law recognizing same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions. The board declined to put the issue on the ballot, citing a city human rights law that bars discrimination.

The group has a lawsuit still pending from this earlier referendum attempt. A hearing in that case is scheduled for January.

ANTI-GAY ACTIVIST: "GOD'S WAR HAS JUST STARTED"
"God's war has just started," anti-Gay activist Bob King told reporters after the vote. "Shame on them. We're going to get to the ballot box through either the courts or the Congress. So tell everyone: Don't let the marriage licenses start flowing."

At least some opponents of the measure seemed to be ready to make peace with it, however.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which had threatened to shut down all its charitable and social service agencies in DC rather than be forced to extend spousal benefits to same-sex couples, is reportedly in negotiations with DC officials over how it can continue to provide services to needy DC residents.

Council member Phil Mendelson, chair of the Council committee that oversaw the legislation, said he was unable to reach an agreement with the church that did not discriminate against same-sex couples, but church and city officials said they will continue their talks.

If religious conservatives were outraged by the Council's vote, local businesspeople were gleeful. According to DC's Office of the Chief Financial Officer, at least $5 million, and perhaps as much as $22 million in extra revenue would be generated by same-sex weddings in DC over the next three years.

The CFO's analysis, created in the run-up to this week's historic vote, estimates that 2,000 same-sex couples living in DC will marry soon after the new law goes into effect, but that as many as 10,000 other couples from around the country would also marry there.

"This is a place people come to see the Constitution and understand what it means to be equal, so symbolically this means a great deal," said HRC President Joe Solmonese after the vote.

The bill's prime sponsor and one of two openly Gay members of the DC City Council, David A. Catania cautioned that Congress could still unravel the measure through budget maneuvers in future years.

"There is no question: We are going to have to be defending it and defending it and defending it until the other side realizes they are losing more votes by being tethered to the past," Catania said.

Same-sex marriages are now legal in Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts. In January 2010, New Hampshire joins the list.

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