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
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
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
“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
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
“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.”