WASHINGTON -- Washington's city council voted Tuesday to legalize gay marriage, giving supporters a victory after a string of recent defeats elsewhere in the U.S. and sending the issue to Congress, which has final say over laws in the capital.
Mayor Adrian Fenty has promised to sign the bill, which passed 11-2, and gay couples could begin marrying as early as March if Congress allows it to become law. Majority Democratic congressional leaders have suggested they are reluctant to get involved, though gay marriage opponents say they will try to get it overturned either in Congress or at the polls.
The bill had overwhelming support among council members and its passage was no surprise.
Two members voted "I do" when their names came up, and when the vote finished a packed chamber erupted into cheers and clapping.
"Make no mistake, 2009 has been one hell of a year for marriage equality," said David Catania, who introduced the bill and is one of two openly gay council members.
The "no" votes included former mayor Marion Barry, now a council member, who voted, "I don't."
If the bill becomes law, Washington will join the states of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. They will be able to wed in New Hampshire starting in January.
Gay marriage supporters have had less success elsewhere recently. Maine voters overturned the state's same-sex marriage law last month. Earlier this month, the New York state Senate rejected a bill that would have allowed gay couples to marry. And New Jersey's legislature, which had been working on a same-sex marriage bill, postponed a recent vote when the measure appeared headed for defeat.
Tuesday's vote in Washington came after several months of discussion, including two marathon council hearings at which some 250 witnesses testified.
Opponents included the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which said it might have to stop providing adoptions and other services because the law would force it to extend benefits to same-sex couples. But most who testified in this overwhelmingly Democratic city were supporters.