Congress has a 30-day period in which to review the bill after it becomes law, but it appears unlikely legislators will overturn the D.C. government's action. The performance of legally recognized same-sex weddings could begin by mid-spring, according to The Washington Post.
The only hope of stopping the legalization of "gay marriage" in the district appears to be through the courts. The Alliance Defense Fund has filed a lawsuit on behalf of eight D.C. citizens calling for approval of an attempt to place an initiative on the ballot to prohibit the unions. An effort to put such a proposal before voters failed when the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics turned it down Nov. 17.
Fenty signed the measure in the auditorium of All Souls Unitarian Church three days after the D.C. council gave final passage. As part of a two-step process, the council approved the legislation by 11-2 votes on Dec. 1 and 15.
In signing the bill in front of about 150 people, including same-sex couples, Fenty remarked, according to The Post, "I say to the world: An era of struggle ends for thousands in Washington, D.C.... Our city is taking a leap forward."
Five states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont -- recognize "gay marriage." In none of those states, however, have voters approved it in a ballot initiative. All 31 states that have held ballot initiatives on the question of same-sex "marriage" have affirmed the traditional view of the institution.
The bill's opponents, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), say the legislation will harm the institution of marriage, as well as families and society. They also are concerned it will not 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 said in a letter to 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.
Defenders of the bill say it protects the rights of clergy and religious bodies.
In rejecting the proposed ballot initiative, the elections board said the measure could not go forward because it "would authorize discrimination prohibited" under the city's Human Rights Act. The initiative would define marriage as only "between a man and a woman."
Robert Hardies, senior pastor of All Souls Church, was part of a coalition of D.C. religious leaders who advocated for legalization of "gay marriage."
The D.C. council voted 12-1 in May to recognize same-sex unions 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.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.
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