Watch: D.C. Council’s David Catania Introduces Marriage Equality Bill

David Catania remarks:

''I am very pleased to introduce 'The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009.' This legislation paves the way for equal access to civil marriage in the District of Columbia by defining marriage as 'a legally recognized union of two people regardless of gender.' If our efforts are successful, the District will join Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Maine, Iowa and New Hampshire in permitting such unions.

''The issue of marriage equality elicits very strong feelings and emotions. On the one hand, there are those such as myself who view marriage as a basic human right which our civil and secular government is duty-bound to extend to same-sex couples in the same manner that is made available to opposite sex couples.

''On the other hand, there are those within our community who simply do not believe that same-sex couples are entitled to the protection of law. At times, that disagreement is rooted in a person's deeply held religious belief and fear that the marriage equality measure will somehow be imposed on his or her faith.

''The question before us is whether there is room in our city for both marriage equality and religious freedom.

''Mr. Chairman, it is my heartfelt belief that such an outcome is both achievable and desirable. As drafted, the legislation outlines specific protections that will be afforded to religious organizations, associations and societies. The legislation clearly states that, 'Each religious organization, association or society has exclusive control over its own religious doctrine, teachings and beliefs regarding who may marry within that particular tradition's faith.'

''The legislation also clarifies that, 'No priest, ministier, imam, or rabbi of any religious denomination, and no official of any nonprofit religious organization authorized to solemnize marriages, shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.'

''In addition, the legislation further protects religious organizations, associations, and societies from having to provide 'services, accommodations, facilities, or goods for the purposes related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of a marriage, that is in violation of the entities religious beliefs; unless the entity makes such services, accommodations or goods available for purchase, rental or use to members of the general public.'

''Finally, Mr. Chairman, the legislation addresses the issue of domestic partnerships in the District. As proposed, the ability to register for domestic partnerships in the District will end on January 1, 2011. Individuals who are registered prior to that date are given the option of converting their domestic partnership into marriage at no cost, or continuing their domestic partnership. Ultimately, the decision will be left to the couple.

''The decision to cease domestic partnerships is consistent with the actions of other states that have successfully adopted marriage equality statues.

''Mr. Chairman, there is no doubt that we are about to embark on an exciting journey here in the District, fulfilling a more perfect understanding of human rights and equality which has long been a trademark of our city that I am proud to call home.''

(transcript via metroweekly)