D.C. Council Votes to Recognize Out-of-State Same-Sex Marriages

The decision is seen as an opening for gay marriage advocates.

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The debate over same-sex marriage heated up in the nation's capital again today, but this time, it wasn't on the Hill: It was in the city council. By a vote of 12 to 1 and after arguments that were closely followed by those on both sides of the debate, Washington's council decided to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.

The decision is widely seen as the capital's opening gambit to eventually legalizing same-sex marriage. The legislation is expected to be signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty, who supports same-sex marriage; it will then go to Congress, which has the power to block the bill during a 30-day period of review mandated by home rule. Council member David Catania said that if Congress doesn't block the bill, he plans to introduce another measure legalizing gay marriage in the District.

The emotionally charged environment of today's debates underlined how personal the legislation can be, with some council members trading barbs over their respective stances. Two of the council members are openly gay. One, Catania, told former Washington Mayor Marion Barry—the sole council member to vote against the bill—that it was "immoral" for Barry to both be his friend and to claim that Catania did not deserve the same rights. But the back and forth didn't sway Barry, who called his vote an "agonizing and difficult decision" that he arrived at after prayer and discussion with religious leaders. "I am representing my constituents," Barry said.

The move makes Washington the latest battleground for an issue that has been on the national radar for more than a decade. Despite the highly publicized reversal disallowing gay marriage in California, four states—Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Iowa—currently allow same-sex marriage. Lawmakers in Maine are debating it.

It's not clear what Congress might do with the bill. But if lawmakers vote to OK the legislation, it could be seen as a signal not only to Washington supporters that they should take up legalization of gay marriage in the District but also that Congress might be ready to re-examine the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a law that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage and has largely left the issue up to the states.