Rejected Bullying by Catholic Archbishop; Adopted Bill & Amendments Backed by ACLU-NCA, GLAA, Many Churches

The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 took effect on March 3, after expiration of the 30-day congressional review period.

On Dec. 1, 2009, the D.C. Council voted 11-2 to approved Bill 18-482, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, removing any uncertainty about the right of same-sex couples to get married in the District of Columbia. Only Councilmembers Marion Barry (Ward 8) and Yvette Alexander (Ward 7) voted against the marriage fairness bill, which had been sponsored by Councilmember David Catania (At-Large) and reported favorably from the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary on Nov. 10 by a vote of 4-1 (Alexander opposed).

The Council approved the bill on second reading at its Dec. 15th session. Mayor Fenty signed the bill at a gathering of religious leaders supporting same-sex marriage and others on Dec. 18th. Like all D.C. legislation in our current non-statehood status, the bill was subject to a congressional review period before taking effect on March 3.

Gay or lesbian couples who have been legally married in other states already have their marriages recognized in the District under an earlier law, introduced by Judiciary Committee Chair Phil Mendelson (D - At Large) that went into effect in July after its congressional review period. The Council noted in both instances that existing District law already required that same-sex couples be treated the same as opposite-sex couples but that both laws made this requirement more explicit.

ACLU-NCA President John Wimberly, Pastor of the Western Presbyterian Church, testified in support of Bill 18-482. The ACLU also urged some changes in the bill to clarify the religious liberty protections already in the bill (priests/rabbis/imams/ministers are not forced to perform marriages, nor are churches forced to hold, same-sex weddings against their religion). Pastor Wimberly's church is also a member of The Interfaith Alliance of churches that support marriage fairness for same-sex couples. The bill as favorably reported from the Committee included the changes proposed by the NCA.

The ACLU, as part of a Coalition opposed several changes the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington sought in the bill, backed by a threat to stop providing charitable services.