Just after midnight, early this morning, same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries became legal in the District of Columbia.
Back in May, the Washington D.C. City Council overwhelmingly approved a bill recognizing these marriages.
What’s significant is that after the vote, the bill required approval by the D.C. mayor and then a legislative review by the U.S. Congress. By law, Congress is charged with oversight of the laws of the District of Columbia, and therefore this new law was subject to review by committees in the House and the Senate. Many observers felt this review was the biggest congressional test on the same-sex marriage issue since the approval of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
The time period for congressional scrutiny ended last night at midnight.
The measure that takes effect today, the Jury and Marriage Amendment Act of 2009, immediately provides the city’s same-sex couples married in other jurisdictions with more than 200 rights, benefits, and obligations associated with marriage under D.C. law.
Spokespersons for D.C. Council members Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), the lead sponsor of the same-sex marriage recognition law, and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), a longtime advocate of same-sex marriage, said no implementing rules would be needed for the city to carry out the marriage recognition law.
City Hall sources said the D.C. Attorney General was preparing a memorandum for the heads of city departments and agencies reminding them that the law is now in effect and that they should be prepared to provide same-sex couples with all the rights and benefits of marriage that have long gone to heterosexual married couples.
Similar to six other U.S. states that have legalized same-sex marriage, gay and lesbian married couples in D.C. won’t be able to receive any of the more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits that come with marriage.
Federal marital rights and benefits are denied to same-sex couples under DOMA.
Gay activists hailed the development as an historic landmark for same-sex couples throughout the country and noted that it opens the way for the Council to pass a separate law later this year allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in the District.
The city’s sweeping domestic partnership law provides nearly all of the D.C. rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex and opposite sex domestic partners who register their relationship with the city. But many activists consider domestic partnerships and civil unions — another form of legal recognition for same-sex couples — to be a “separate and unequal” status that denies full equality for same-sex couples that activists say can only come with the right to marry.
The law took effect one week after a D.C. Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Maryland minister and six supporters seeking to put the law on hold until they completed requirements to overturn the measure through a voter referendum.
Approximately 55 percent of the population of the District of Columbia is black, and churches in the area with large black congregations have been extremely vocal in their opposition to the new law. Ministers have expressed hope they can rally their congregations in opposition to the recognition of same-sex marriage.
In May, when the council first voted on the measure, The Washington Post reported:
After the vote, enraged African American ministers stormed the hallway outside the council chambers and vowed that they will work to oust the members who supported the bill. They caused such an uproar that security officers and D.C. police were called in to clear the hallway.
In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Judith Retchin, in a 15-page decision, upheld an earlier ruling by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics that a referendum seeking to block the same-sex marriage recognition measure would violate the city’s Human Rights Act. The election board and Retchin each ruled that the referendum could not be held because it would violate the human rights law’s provision banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., vowed to continue his efforts to oppose same-sex marriage in the District, saying he and his supporters would seek to overturn the law in the coming months through a voter initiative.