WASHINGTON (BP)--The District of Columbia Council voted 11-2 to legalize "same-sex marriage" Dec. 1, putting the capital in position to become the sixth U.S. jurisdiction to approve such unions.
The action is the first of two votes required to pass the legislation. A second vote by the council is expected to occur Dec. 15. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty has committed to sign the measure after a second favorable council vote.
Congress will have the opportunity to review the bill after it becomes law, but it appears unlikely legislators will overturn the D.C. action.
Five states -- Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Iowa -- recognize "gay marriage." In none of those states, however, have voters approved "same-sex marriage" in a ballot initiative. All 31 states that have held ballot initiatives on the question of "same-sex marriage" have approved the traditional view of the institution.
D.C. residents have been blocked from voting on a proposal to prohibit "gay marriage." The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled Nov. 17 against an initiative that would define marriage as only "between a man and a woman," saying it could not go forward because it "would authorize discrimination prohibited" under the city's Human Rights Act.
The Alliance Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit on behalf of eight D.C. citizens calling for approval of an effort to place the initiative on the ballot.
Council member David Catania, the openly homosexual sponsor of the bill, said in a written statement after its passage, "Today's vote is an important victory not only for the gay and lesbian community but for everyone who supports equal rights. Gays and lesbians bear every burden of citizenship and are entitled to every benefit and protection that the law allows."
The only two D.C. council members to vote against the "gay marriage" bill were Marion Barry and Yvette Alexander, both Democrats.
Barry, the former D.C. mayor, said before his vote, according to The Washington Post, "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."
The bill's opponents, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, say the legislation will harm the institution of marriage, as well as families and society. They also contend the measure does not appear to provide enough protection for the expression of religious belief by those who oppose "gay marriage."
"It will lead to the violation of the consciences of children in schools as they are subjected to teachings in an authoritarian environment that same-sex marriage is a legitimate form of marriage," ERLC President Richard Land told the D.C. elections board before its ruling. "Changing the definition of marriage would likely also result in government restrictions on the religious freedom of religious groups, potentially exposing them to government reprisal for honoring their faith convictions" regarding homosexuality.
The D.C. council voted 12-1 in May to recognize "same-sex marriages" performed in other jurisdictions. The law enables homosexual couples living in D.C. to have wedding ceremonies in states where "gay marriage" is legal and have those unions recognized by the district.
The debate in D.C. comes as supporters of "gay marriage" in New York and New Jersey pressure legislators to pass bills redefining marriage.
The New York Senate could take up the issue later Tuesday in a vote that has been long-anticipated by the bill's supporters, the New York Daily News reported. Because it already passed the Assembly and because Democratic Gov. David A. Paterson has pledged to sign it, the bill's fate lies with the Senate, where Democrats hold a 32-30 edge. At least two to three Democrats have publicly expressed their opposition to it, however. A victory in New York -- the nation's third most populous state -- would be monumental for homosexual activists.
Meanwhile, the push to legalize "gay marriage" in New Jersey has stalled following the election of Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie -- who has said he would veto such a bill -- and following the vote by Maine's citizens to prohibit "gay marriage." If the bill is to become law, it must pass before Christie is inaugurated Jan. 19. Lame duck Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, says he would sign it.
"They've lost the momentum," state Sen. Kip Bateman, a New Jersey Republican, told the Star-Ledger newspaper. "I don't think it's going to happen."
Said Steve Goldstein, chairman of Garden State Equality, a New Jersey homosexual group, "Many of us in the progressive movement just want to throw up. Democrats put out one hand out to ask for money, and with the other they stab you in the back."
A November Quinnipiac University poll found New Jersey adults oppose "gay marriage" by a 49-46 percent margin.
More than 200 Democrats signed a letter released Tuesday urging the New Jersey legislature, controlled by Democrats, to pass the bill.
In California, a second major liberal group cast doubt Monday on the likelihood Proposition 8 could be overturned in 2010. That group, the Courage Campaign, released a statement calling for "more research and time to change hearts and minds before returning to the ballot to restore marriage for gay and lesbian couples in California." The statement did not say it opposes a 2010 ballot initiative, but the fact that the group hasn't yet begun collecting signatures for its own initiative -- or committed to a 2010 timetable -- is significant. In August, Equality California, the state's leading homosexual group, said it would wait until at least 2012 before trying to reverse Proposition 8, which passed last year and prohibits "gay marriage."
One California group calling itself Love Honor Cherish already has started collecting signatures for a 2010 anti-Prop 8 initiative, but it does not have the backing of the other major liberal and homosexual organizations. It hopes to gather the required 700,000 signatures solely by using volunteers and social networking -- something that other groups, both conservative and liberal, say is likely to fail.
Reported by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode and BP assistant editor Michael Foust.
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