November 27, 2009 at 1:15 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
City poised to approve gay marriage bill

Council member David Catania called on the Archdiocese to adopt what has been dubbed the ‘San Francisco-Georgetown’ compromise over how the Catholic Church could provide health insurance and other benefits to same-sex partners of employees. (Photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. City Council drew national attention this week as it made final preparations for the first of two votes on a same-sex marriage bill next Tuesday that observers say was expected to pass by a margin as wide as 11 to 2.

Council insiders said there was no surge in phone calls or e-mails to the Council over the past week in response to national media reports about a warning about the bill from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.

Archdiocesan officials said they would stop operating city funded social service programs that help as many as 68,000 needy people unless the Council makes changes in the bill allowing the group Catholic Charities to deny same-sex spousal benefits to its employees.

“I hear everybody in the press talking about it, but we haven’t heard anything at all,” said Jason Shedlock, chief of staff to Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who chairs the committee that approved the bill earlier this month.

In a separate development, opponents of the same-sex marriage bill, led by a Maryland minister, filed suit against the city in D.C. Superior Court to contest a decision two weeks ago by the city’s election board rejecting a proposed voter initiative to ban same-sex marriage in the District.

The election board ruled that the proposed ballot initiative would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation. Same-sex marriage opponents say they have the funds to appeal the ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court should they lose in Superior Court.

Shedlock said Mendelson and Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), the author of the bill, had yet to receive an answer as of Monday to a letter they sent to Archbishop Donald Wuerl, head of the Washington Archdiocese, suggesting a compromise solution to the church’s objection to the marriage bill.

In statements last week, Archdiocesan officials said providing spousal benefits to their employees’ same-sex married spouses would violate church teachings that marriage must be restricted to a man and a woman.  Church officials have asked the Council to add a provision in the marriage bill to amend the city’s Human Rights Act to exempt groups like Catholic Charities from having to provide equal employee benefits to same-sex couples.

The Council has refused the request, saying it would be unfair to single out gay or lesbian employees for discrimination.

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Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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