A promised, nearly-certain-to-be-approved, gay marriage bill is expected to be introduced before month's end in Washington D.C., but threats loom.

After months of expectation, openly gay Councilman David A. Catania (I-At Large) says his promised gay marriage bill is ready. More importantly, Catania announced the bill is supported by 10 co-sponsors, nearly guaranteeing its passage.

Catania is expected to introduce the bill shortly before his September 30th speech at the Call for Action Convocation for Marriage Equality, a discussion on how to secure the right to marry for gay and lesbian couples in the District being organized by local gay rights groups, gay weekly The Washington Blade reported Friday.

The bill, titled the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Amendment Act of 2009, would change the definition of marriage to say that “marriage is the legally recognized union of two people” and “any person who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements … may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender.”

But while the bill's approval is all but certain, it won't be painless – if last spring's fight for a gay marriage recognition bill is any indication.

Opponents of gay marriage in the District have vociferously attacked the council's actions. The gay marriage recognition law, which allows the District to recognize gay marriages performed outside its borders, spurred Bishop Harry Jackson to organize Stand4MarriageDC.com, a group dedicated to fighting the gay marriage movement in the District.

In June, the group appealed a ruling by the D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics that blocked a referendum aimed at ending the law from going forward. The two-member panel said such a referendum would violate the District's Human Rights Act of 1977 that prohibits discrimination based on race, gender or sexual orientation. Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin agreed with the board's ruling, and chided opponents: “At bottom, the harm about which petitioners complain is not based on denial of the right to referendum. Rather, they simply disagree with legislation enacted by our duly elected [city] council. A citizen's disagreement with constitutionally sound legislation, whether based on political, religious or moral views, does not rise to the level of an actionable harm.”

While the group failed to derail the start of the marriage recognition bill, which went into effect on July 7, it has succeeded in capturing the attention of national anti-gay groups and conservative lawmakers in Congress – adversaries who could possibly alter the balance of the debate.

Under the principle of Home Rule, Congress has the final say on legislation passed in the District. Most in Congress ignored the issue in May, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, saying the District should be treated like a state. But several Republican lawmakers, led by Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, made hay over the issue, and are likely to raise a ruckus over the new bill.

Jackson and his supporters are also pursuing a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage in the District.

The one-sentence initiative says, “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in the District of Columbia.”

Supporters of the referendum, however, will face the same Board of Elections & Ethics and Human Rights Act roadblocks that stalled earlier efforts.

Jackson says he wants people to vote on gay marriage because the issue is too important to be decided by lawmakers.

“The D.C. City Council has stated that their intention is to redefine marriage by going beyond recognizing homosexual marriage[s] performed outside the District to advocating for them to be performed in the District,” said Jackson in a statement. “This redefinition of marriage will permanently impact D.C. businesses, schools, social activities, and the family unit without the voice of the residents being heard.”

“The initiative filed today would allow the people of the District to decide this important issue, not a 13-person panel,” Jackson added.

The Roman Catholic Church has thrown its weight behind the referendum.

In a letter addressed to 300 local priests, Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl wrote that “marriage is a path towards holiness … so as members of the church we are obliged to be all the more attentive to the challenges that weaken marriage.”

Only three Democratic council members have not pledged their support for the gay marriage bill: Harry Thomas Jr. (Ward 5), Yvette M. Alexander (Ward 7), and Marion Barry (Ward 8). Barry was the lone dissenter to vote against the gay marriage recognition bill.

Catania says he's hoping for a unanimous vote, but bringing Barry and Alexander on board might prove a difficult task.

“I stand where the president stands, that the definition of marriage is a union between a man and a woman,” Alexander told the Washington City Paper. “We've given them just about everything that they would get [with marriage] with a domestic partnership.”

“The word 'marriage equality' for me doesn't make sense,” she adds. “Marriage is between a man and a woman. How more equal do they want it?”

In an interview Thursday with The Washington Post, Catania said he was encouraged by the bill's wide support.

“For me, I have to be honest, it's a particularly satisfying point in time to have a community and the council that is so committed to marriage equality.”

“The debate is almost over here. The acceptance, while not universal, is substantial.”