A few moments ago, the D.C. Council voted on first reading to approve same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. The measure passed by a vote of 11 to 2. Councilmembers Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) voted in opposition.
In his opening remarks, Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) noted that the Council had heard 17 hours of testimony on the bill from 219 witnesses, two-thirds of which supported the bill. In response to opposition from the DC Archdiocese, Councilmember Mendelson characterized the proposed legislation as expanding, not reducing, religious freedom. Some churches and other religious institutions that would like to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies are precluded from doing so, Mendelson explained. On the other hand, the legislation would not require any religious institution to perform same-sex marriages if contrary to its beliefs.
Catholic Charities has asserted that it will not be able to provide valuable social services on behalf of the District should the measure become law because they would be required to provide services, such as marriage counseling or adoption services, to same-sex couples on the same basis as straight married couples. Mendelson noted, however, that after closely reviewing the laws of the six states that have by legislation or court decision recognized same-sex marriages, he could find no basis for providing an exemption to religious institutions to permit discrimination in providing social services or employment benefits. Despite discussion of a potential "compromise" over the past weeks. no such amendment was offered.
The legislation will now move to a second reading. It will then be subject to the ordinary Congressional review period applicable to all DC laws before taking effect.