D.C. Council approves bill legalizing gay marriage
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Bill heads to Fenty’s desk, still must survive congressional review period
By Tim Craig
The D.C. Council gave final approval Tuesday to a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, setting off a wave of excitement in the gay community even as opponents vow to continue the fight on Capitol Hill.
The bill, approved by a vote of 11 to 2, will now go to Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who is expected to sign it before Christmas. The bill will become law in the spring if it survives a 30-day legislative review period.
After the vote, dozens same-sex marriage supporters rose to their feet and began cheering in the council chamber, despite council rules prohibiting public demonstrations.
“In many ways, this is the final prize,” said council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), one of two openly gay council members.
To block the legislation, the Democratic-controlled House and Senate and President Obama would all have to sign off on a disapproval resolution within 30 legislative days, which advocates say is not likely.
“We believe we are firmly rooted in the right side of history, and I know we are going to prevail,” said council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), who is also gay and sponsored the bill. “But we are going to have to remain vigilant to protect this right.”
During the debate, council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said he could not support the bill but acknowledged the body was making history.
“This must be a proud day for you David, Mr. Graham,” said Barry, a onetime civil rights leader, “Just as it was a proud day for me when the voting rights bill was passed in 1965. But this is a democracy and I reserve the right to disagree.”
Council member Yvette D. Alexander (D-Ward 7), who like Barry represents neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River, also voted against the legislation, saying her constituents have told her they oppose same-sex marriage.
The Rev. Anthony Evans, associate minister of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, said he and other ministers will not relent in their efforts to block the legislation. Led by Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church, opponents of the bill have sued in Superior Court to try to force a referendum to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
“We are going to exercise our constitutional rights,” Evans said. “This is not a win today. This is an insignificant blimp that cannot become law until the process ends, and we are going to stop it in every way we can.”
But gay rights leaders, who say they have prepared for this moment for decades, heralded the vote as a historic day in the worldwide struggle for gay rights. The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization, is teaming with the D.C. Council to host a celebration tonight at the Longview Gallery in Shaw.
On Monday night, about 350 same-sex marriage supporters held a pre-vote rally at a city recreational center in Shaw. Some of those who attended were religious leaders, underscoring how more than 200 faith leaders in the District have endorsed same-sex marriage.
Deacon Maccubbin, 66, the owner of the Lamba Rising book store on Connecticut Avenue in Dupont Circle, said he never thought he would be alive to see same-sex marriage be legal in the District.
“I’m really blown away by this,” Maccubbin said. “When I came to Washington in 1966, we didn’t even have basic civil rights. We didn’t even have a police department that would talk to us, but we had a supportive community and that continues to this day.”
Maccubbin had a “holy union ceremony” with his longtime partner, Jim Bennett, the co-owner of Lamba Rising, in 1982. The two plan to get married as soon as the same-sex marriage bill becomes law.
“This is a moment in history that I think all gay people have been waiting for,” Erika Zommer, 27, of Northeast, said in an interview at the rally. “But I think with my generation, I knew this day would come.”