Catania: Gay Marriage Bill Will Debut Tuesday
The waiting game is over.
After months of buildup, D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At large) announced Wednesday evening he would introduce his proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in the District at Tuesday's council meeting.
Catania made his announcement before 150 gay rights activists gathered in Shaw for a rally featuring the Rev. Eric P. Lee, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
"We are going to do it now," Catania told the crowd. "We are going to do it now, not for ourselves, but for the young people who are 20 years-old, 16-years-old, 13-years-old."
According to a copy of the bill, the city code would be changed to state "marriage is the legally recognized union of two people" and "any person ... may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender."
Catania's bill, which states religious organizations and officials have the right not to participate in same-sex marriages, is expected to pass the council easily when it comes up for a vote around Thanksgiving. Ten of 13 council members will co-introduce Catania's bill Tuesday, and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has pledged to sign it.
But the measure still would have to get past Congress, which can overturn District legislation under Home Rule.
Speaking to reporters after the event, Catania said he's been in touch with Obama administration officials in recent days to solicit their help in reaching out to the Democratic-controlled House and Senate on the issue.
Although Obama has stated that he personally opposes same-sex marriage, Catania said the response from the White House "has been very good."
"We are not asking the White House to change its position on marriage equality -- the discussion with the White House is about supporting local home rule," Catania said. "Everyone knows where the president is on this issue, but we also know the president has high regard for home rule and local autonomy. And on those grounds we believe the White House should work with us in defending the actions of the local government."
Much of Wednesday's rally centered on what steps gay rights activists need to take to assure success, not only locally but on Capitol Hill.
"We are now about to embark on the sprint to the finish line," said Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who was joined by council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Michael Brown (I-At Large).
The SCLC's Lee, who is heterosexual and a leading black advocate for same-sex marriage, stressed during his sermon that gay-rights activists cannot allow the debate to be defined on religious terms. At one point, Lee equated the campaign for same-sex marriage to the city's drive for voting rights.
"It's taxation without representation," he said. "That's an issue here in D.C., isn't it?"
One couple at the rally, Kim Rohrs and Lisa Corey, hope to one day get married.
"We've been together five years," Rohrs said. "We are 30 and it would be nice to have a marriage option and start a family."
They weren't the only ones thinking ahead.
With Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler (D) expected to issue an opinion soon on whether that state legally can recognize same-sex marriage performed elsewhere, someone asked Catania what would happen if Maryland couples started flocking to the District to take their vows.
"I'm okay with thousands and thousands of Maryland residents who want to come here and get married," Catania replied. "The only thing I ask is that they hold their receptions here."
UPDATE: The group of ministers hoping to derail the same-sex marriage bill met with Council members today, urging them to allow a public vote on the matter. Read more here.
-- Tim Craig
Christopher Dean Hopkins
October 1, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
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