By Tim Craig, Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to legalize same-sex marriage in the District, as the city moves quickly to join five states in allowing gay couples to marry.
After months of debate, the council passed the bill 11 to 2. It still must take a second vote in two weeks before the measure can go to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who has said he will sign it.
If the bill survives a required congressional review period, the District will join New Hampshire, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and Massachusetts in allowing same-sex marriage.
Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), one of two openly gay members of the council, said before the vote he thought it was a day that "would never come."
"It really speaks to the long and rich tradition of tolerance and acceptance that does make up the sense of place in the District of Columbia," said Catania, the chief sponsor of the bill.
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), another key sponsor, said the vote is a culmination of a decades-long struggle by gay rights leaders in the District.
"I don't think it's a giant step; it's a final step," Mendelson said.
Council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) were the only two members to vote against the bill.
Before casting his vote, Barry gave an impassioned speech noting that he is a longtime supporter of gay rights. But Barry said that his constituents oppose same-sex marriage, and that he believed the council should have authorized a referendum on the issue.
"I stand here today to express in no uncertain terms my strong commitment to the gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender community on almost every issue except this one," Barry said.
He then went on to plead with gay and lesbian residents not to hold his "no" vote against him.
"It's not fair to make this one issue a litmus test as to one's commitment to human rights, to justice, and I resent those who would make it a litmus test," Barry said.
Private polls show that black voters are far more likely than white voters in the District to oppose same-sex marriage. Both Barry and Alexander represent majority black wards and they also have stated that they were under considerable pressure from African-American ministers in their wards to vote against the bill.
But council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) said he had no choice but to support the bill, even though many of his constituents oppose same-sex marriage.
"I sit here as a ward member and worry about the consequences but remind everyone . . . we must stand up for the least of those among us" Thomas said.