D.C. Council votes to legalize same-sex marriage


WASHINGTON — The District of Columbia Council took a major
step toward joining New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Massachusetts
in legalizing same-sex marriage Tuesday, approving the change by a vote of 11
to 2.

Although the outcome was expected from the heavily
Democratic city, the move remains controversial because of opposition from
socially conservative churches.

“Today’s vote is an important victory not only for the
gay and lesbian community but for everyone who supports equal rights,”
said openly gay Council member David Catania, in a statement. “Gays and
lesbians bear every burden of citizenship and are entitled to every benefit and
protection that the law allows.”

The most vocal opposition came from the Catholic Archdiocese
of Washington. Archbishop Donald Wuerl warned that legalizing same-sex marriage
will force the church’s social services arm to scale back its efforts in the

The law, as passed on Tuesday, would not make churches
perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, but it would require employers doing
business with the city, including churches, to provide health benefits for
married same-sex couples.

Providing those benefits would violate their religious
beliefs, say church officials. Refusing to provide them, however, would make
them ineligible to have social-services contracts and partnerships with the

“We really don’t want to be in a position where we’re
being asked to abandon one part of our faith to be able to live out the other
part,” said Susan Gibbs, an archdiocese spokeswoman. “Our goal is to
be able to provide the same level of services, but we have to be true to our

Gibbs said the archdiocese was trying to work out a
compromise allowing them to continue receiving city money to help provide
social services but exempting them from recognizing same-sex marriages. She
said the archdiocese currently had about $18 million to $20 million in city

The debate over same-sex marriage also revealed a dichotomy
in the district’s social politics. While about 75 percent of the majority
African-American city’s registered voters are Democrats, who as a party tend to
support same-sex marriage, some of the strongest opposition came from socially
conservative African-Americans.

Same-sex marriage “is unbiblical,” said Pastor
George Gilbert Sr., who leads the district’s Holy Trinity United Baptist
Church. “People of faith can be Democrats while disagreeing with them on
some things.” The pastor, who spoke at several rallies opposing same-sex
marriage, also rejected comparisons between the gay rights movement and the
civil rights movement.

“I am an African-American — I was born black,” he
said. “Gays are not born gay. It’s a choice.”

The council’s vote Tuesday is not final. The council must
vote to pass the law again, which is expected to occur on Dec. 15, and then
once signed by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty as expected, it is sent to Congress for

If Congress takes no action to block the law within 30
legislative days, same-sex marriage will become legal. District politicians are
optimistic that Congress will let the legalization of same-sex marriage pass.

“All the indications have been that they won’t do
anything,” said Doxie McCoy, spokeswoman for D.C. Council Chairman Vincent
Gray. “But we thought we’d have voting rights by now, too.”

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.