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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Washington, DC

Bill passes twice by city
council, & is signed into law

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Bill passes first reading at city council:

On 2009-DEC-01, the city council voted in favor of the bill to legalize same-sex marriage (SSM) in the District of Columbia by the expected vote of 11 to 2.

The preamble to the bill states its purpose:

"To amend An Act To establish a code of law for the District of Columbia to clarify that marriage between 2 people in the District of Columbia shall not be denied or limited on the basis of gender, to ensure that no minister of any religious society who is authorized to solemnize or celebrate marriages shall be required to solemnize or celebrate any marriage, and to ensure the protection of religious freedom with regard to the provision of services, accommodations, facilities, or goods related to the celebration or solemnization of a same-sex marriage; to amend the Health Care Benefits Expansion Act of 1992 to allow domestic partners to convert their domestic partnership into a marriage without paying an additional fee; and to amend section 16-903 of the District of Columbia Official Code to make a conforming amendment." 1

Nima Reza of CitizenLink issued a report about the city council's first reading of this bill. Whether it was an "untypo" or intentional, they referred to gay marriage, instead of gay "marriage." It has been a universal practice among fundamentalist Christian news services to always wrap the word "marriage" in quotation marks when it refers to SSM in order to devalue that type of marriage. 2/b>

There are some statements in the Citizenlink report that might be confusing to some readers:

bullet The title reads: "Washington, D.C., Council Approves Gay Marriage." Actually, the bill has only passed Council in its first reading. It requires a second reading and approval by the Mayor to become law.

bullet Nima Reza stated that:
bullet "Christian adoption agencies would be potentially forced to place children with same-sex couples." Actually, the law would apply only to agencies financially supported by the city, and they would only have to consider same-sex couples as potential adopting parents. The law does not require any child to be placed with a same-sex couple.

bullet "Christian counselors may be forced to help homosexual couples strengthen their relationship." Counseling agencies funded by the city would be required to handle all married couples if they accept money from the city -- both same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples. But exactly which counselor helped a particular couple would presumably be up to the agency.

bullet "Photographers may be required to offer their services to gay weddings even if they morally object to the practice." This is unlikely, unless the city was hiring the photographers. 2

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Bill passes second reading at city council & is signed into law:

On the afternoon of 2009-DEC-15, the city council voted again on the SSM bill, as scheduled. The second vote was identical to the first: 11 to 2 in favor. Council members Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who represent predominately black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, were the only negative votes. 3

Just after the vote, Bob King, a conservative community activist said:  

"God's war has just started. ... 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." 3

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) one of two openly gay council members, said:

"In many ways, this is the final prize." 3

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said:

"Today, I am very proud of our city. I hope today we serve as beacon for those who have not been given full rights across our country."

The Office of the Chief Financial Officer had reported that about 2,000 same-sex couples who reside in Washington are expected to marry quickly if the bill becomes law. They estimated that more than 8,000 same-sex couples from across the U.S. could get married in Washington over the next three years. This could pour $5 million to $22 million into the economy. 3

This was a personal victory for David Catania, who has been promoting SSM for Washington DC for a decade. He is a former Republican, currently an Independent, who celebrated the 12th anniversary of being sworn in for his first term as council member on the same day as the vote. The Washington Post commented:

"Cementing a goal he set a decade ago, Catania has bullied his proposal through the political process, convincing not only his council colleagues and Democrats in Congress but also skeptics in the gay community that this was the year to act on same-sex marriage." 4

The Washington Update by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council -- a fundamentalist Christian advocacy group -- stated:

"... it's a shame that the D.C. City Council doesn't have more moderates. Instead, the local governing board is chock-full of rabid, social liberals who will stop at nothing until marriage is redefined out of existence. Today, the Council affirmed for a second time its support for same-sex 'marriage,' effectively sending the bill to Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) for his signature. But Bishop Harry Jackson from Stand4MarriageDC says, 'It ain't over 'til God says it's over!' His coalition is filing a referendum on the Council vote this Wednesday, and he's asking people from across the city to stand with them as they do." 5

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group said:

"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."

Deacon Maccubbin, who owns the Lambda Rising gay-positive bookstore in Washington had held a commitment ceremony with his partner 28 years ago. They plan to marry as soon as possible. He said:

"We have done the church wedding, but we want to have the license, right here in the District of Columbia."

Mayor Adrian Fenty had previously promised to sign the legislation into law if it were passed by the city council. He did this on 2009-DEC-18.

The law now has to dodge a potential veto by Congress in order to legalize SSM and establish marriage equality throughout the District of Columbia. The Congress has up to 30 legislative days to implement the veto. Because of Christmas and New Years, the 30 legislative days will last well into 2010.

The mid-term elections are approaching in 2010-NOV. Probably very few Democrats would be prepared to vote on a veto. That party is in control of the flow of bills and thus will probably prevent a veto from getting on the agenda. However, Congress does hold ultimate control of DC activities through its annual appropriation bill. A rider could be added to the bill in 2010 that would prevent the expenditure of funds by the City of Washington implementing SSM. If the Republicans regain control of the Congress in 2012, a rider would probably be considered a very high priority.

If it is not vetoed by Congress, then SSM would be legal in six jurisdictions in the U.S.: Connecticut, District of Columbia, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont. SSM has been available in all seven provinces and three territories in Canada since mid-2005.

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The National Organization for Marriage also comments on the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics' ruling:

Brian S. Brown, Executive Director of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) told a press conference shortly after the Council's second reading:

"The people of D.C. have a right, guaranteed by the charter, which is D.C.'s constitution, to vote to protect marriage. Politicians on the city council are acting as if they have the right through legislation to deprive citizens of D.C. of their core civil right to vote, but we will not let them get away with it."

"We have one message for David Catania and the rest of these politicians today: this fight is not over. We will go to Congress, we will go to the courts, we will fight for the people's right to vote and we will win!" 6

Again we have the curious situation in which social and religious conservatives are complaining that the voters of DC are disenfranchised because the Board of Elections and Ethics refuses to allow a plebiscite to be conducted on SSM. The goal of the plebiscite is, of course, to disenfranchise same-sex couples by not allowing them to marry, and not allowing SSMs performed in other jurisdictions to be recognized in DC. So, NOM's concern is that the voters have been disenfranchised from being able to discriminate against others.

Brown later wrote in an emailed NOM information bulletin:

"The arrogance shown by DC Council members has been simply outrageous. Eleven of the Council's 13 members are determined to force same-sex marriage on the District, even if that means trampling the DC City Charter and depriving District residents of the right to vote." 6

However, city council did not reject the plebiscite. That decision was made by the Board of Elections and Ethics. The board determined that they did not have the power to approve the plebiscite because of  D.C. Code section 1-1001.16(b)(2). The latter forbids voter initiatives that increase any type of discrimination that is prohibited by the District of Columbia Human Rights Act. It would seem that NOM and their allies -- Stand4Marriage DC -- are themselves trying to trample the City Charter.

Brown also wrote:

"The DC Charter guarantees its citizens the right to put an initiative on the ballot for a District-wide vote, but earlier this month, the Board of Elections rejected a measure that would state: 'Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in the District of Columbia.' The proposed initiative simply restated current DC law on marriage." 6

This would appear to be an error. The "current DC law on marriage" recognizes those same-sex marriages that are legally solemnized elsewhere. If the plebiscite were passed, this arrangement would be terminated. So the purpose of the initiative is, in fact, to change the current DC marriage law as it now exists.

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Mass wedding in DC:

On 2010-FEB-26, a mass wedding of same-sex couples is planned for Washington. According to GLBT Wedding Services, the largest same-sex mass wedding in history is planned for 2010-MAR-20. They hope to break the Guinness World Record with up to 400 couples marrying. It will be part of an all-day series of events called "Our Time Has Come." Needless to say, the celebration is contingent on SSMs being legalized in early March so that final arrangements and marriage licenses can be obtained in time. 7 This has come to pass as the city started to issue licenses to same-sex couples on 2010-MAR-03.

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The story continues

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "A bill 18-482 in the council of the District of Columbia," Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, 2009-NOV-10, at: This is a PDF file.
  2. Nima Reza, "Washington, D.C., Council Approves Gay Marriage," CitizenLink, 2009-DEC-01, at:
  3. Tim Craig, "D.C. Counciul approves same-sex marriage bill," Washington Post, 2009-DEC-16, at:
  4. Tim Craig, "Same-sex marriage bill is milestone for D.C. Council member. For D.C. Council member, same-sex marriage bill a personal and professional victory," Washington Post, 2009-DEC-15. at:
  5. Tony Perkins, "Left at the altar," Family Research Council, mailing, 2009-DEC-15.
  6. Brian Brown, "TAKE ACTION!!! NOM Vows to Help Overturn DC SSM Bill," National Organization for Marriage, mailing, 2009-DEC-15.
  7. "DC strives to set world record as Gay Marriage legalization nears," PR Newswire, 2010-FEB-26, at:

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Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posting: 2009-NOV-01
Latest update: 2010-FEB-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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