D.C. Council Gives Final Passage to Same-Sex Marriage Bill

by HRC Staff

Mayor Fenty says he will sign pending conclusion of Congressional Review period, Washington, D.C. would join five States in recognizing marriage equality.

Washington - The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, applauded the Washington, D.C. Council's overwhelming vote today for final passage of legislation recognizing same-sex marriage.

"Today's vote is a victory for all D.C. residents, whose relationships will soon be treated equally and fairly in the eyes of the law," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "This legislation is an important and historic step towards equal dignity, equal respect and equal rights for same-sex couples here in our nation's capital, which also preserves the right of clergy and congregations to adhere to their faiths. The legislation the Council passed today reinforces the legal equality and religious freedoms to which all D.C. residents are entitled."

"Congratulations to the D.C. Council - particularly Councilmember David Catania who spearheaded this bill - Mayor Fenty and the many advocates of equality in our community who have worked so hard for, and will vigorously fight to protect marriage equality in D.C. We look forward to the Mayor's signature and the day not too far off when same-sex couples in D.C. will be able to enjoy all the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage," added Solmonese.

The D.C. Council voted today 11 to 2 to give final approval to the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009. The vote recognizing same-sex marriage was the second in two weeks for the Council, which approved the bill in an initial vote on December 1, 2009 by the same margin. Since last July, D.C. law has recognized marriages by same-sex couples from other jurisdictions, including foreign countries. The new legislation would permit same-sex couples to marry in D.C. itself while ensuring that clergy and religious organizations would not be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities or goods for the solemnization of a same-sex marriage.

The legislation now goes to the desk of Mayor Fenty, who has said he will sign it. The law would take effect at the conclusion of the Congressional review period, which lasts for 30 legislative days following the Mayor's signature.

Opponents of marriage equality have attempted to overturn the legislation by proposing a ballot initiative to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled last month that the proposed initiative would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act and therefore was not a proper subject matter for the referendum process under D.C. law. Opponents have sued in D.C. Superior Court despite the fact that last June, a Superior Court judge ruled that a similar proposed referendum prohibiting recognition of marriages by same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act and therefore was ineligible for the ballot.

At this time, five states recognize marriage for same-sex couples under state law: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire (effective January 1, 2010). New York recognizes marriages by same-sex couples legally entered into in another jurisdiction. Five states-California, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada-plus D.C. provide same-sex couples with access to the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Hawaii, Colorado, Maine, Maryland and Wisconsin provide same-sex couples with limited rights and benefits. California recognized marriage by same-sex couples between June and November of 2008, before a slim majority of voters approved Proposition 8, which purports to amend the state constitution to prohibit marriage equality. Couples married during that window remain married under California law, but all other same-sex couples can only receive a domestic partnership within the state. The state will recognize out of state same-sex marriages that occurred before November 5, 2008 as marriages and those that occurred on or after November 5, 2008 as domestic partnerships. The Prop. 8 vote has been challenged in federal court a decision is not expected any time soon.

Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and responsibilities anywhere in the United States. To learn more about state by state legislation, visit: www.hrc.org/state-laws.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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