The Washington, D.C. City Council’s decision to recognize same-sex "marriages" contracted elsewhere prompted accusations of bigotry against a black leader while causing "adamant" protests from the city’s African-American community. Councilman Marion Berry, the lone dissenter in the vote, said the controversial move could trigger a figurative "civil war."
The Archdiocese of Washington said it was "gravely concerned" by the vote and accused the council of pushing through the measure without hearings or the opportunity for public input.
By a vote of 12-1 on Tuesday, the council passed the measure recognizing same-sex "marriages" in other states. According to the Washington Post, "enraged" African American ministers stormed the hallway outside the council chambers and pledged to work to vote out the members who supported the bill.
Councilman Barry, a former D.C. mayor, said he "agonized" over whether to oppose the bill but finally decided to stand with the "ministers who stand on the moral compass of God."
"I am representing my constituents," he said, adding that 98 percent of his constituents are black and "we don’t have but a handful of openly gay residents."
During the debate, openly homosexual council member David A. Catania, an Independent, accused Barry of taking a "bigoted" position disrespectful toward himself and the other open homosexual on the council, Democrat Jim Graham.
"This issue is whether or not our colleagues, on a personal level, view me and Jim Graham as your equals, if we are permitted the same rights and responsibilities and obligations as our colleagues," Catania said, according to the Washington Post. "So this is personal. This is acknowledging our families as much as we acknowledge yours."
Barry responded, saying he has supported homosexual rights since the 1970s but could not vote for the proposal.
"I understand this is personal to you and Mr. Graham. I understand because I have been discriminated against," Barry said. ". . . I resent Mr. Catania saying either you are a bigot or against bigotry, as though this particular legislation represents all of that."
Catania replied that he believed Barry’s position was bigoted, but said he didn’t think Barry himself was bigoted.
"All hell is going to break lose," Barry also said. "We may have a civil war. The black community is just adamant against this."
More than 100 black ministers had signed a letter to Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty asking the Democrat to oppose the member.
However, Fenty has said he will sign the bill, which was sponsored by Councilman Phil Mendelson.
After the signing the bill goes before Congress, which has 30 days to review District legislation.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that oversees the District of Columbia, said he would try to block the bill.
"Some things are worth fighting for, and this is one of them… It's not something I can let go softly into the night. …I recognize the Democrats are in the majority, but I represent the majority of Americans on this issue."
According to the Washington Post, Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton praised the decision and said she did not believe a "serious attempt" to overturn the council bill will be made or will be successful.
In a Tuesday statement, the Archdiocese of Washington said it was "gravely concerned" by the vote, saying it showed "a lack of understanding of the true meaning of marriage."
"Furthermore, considering the importance of this issue for families throughout the city, the archdiocese is dismayed that the Council chose to push this measure through as an amendment without hearings or giving their constituents the opportunity to voice their concerns to their elected officials," the statement continued.
"Marriage is a natural institution established by God and written in the very nature of man and woman and is therefore endowed with its own proper laws," the Archdiocese continued, saying marriage is "not merely a fact of religious faith or an institution established by civil authorities, but a fundamental reality rooted in human nature and experience.
"Civil marriage is not simply a union of two people who love each other and are committed to each other, but it is reserved to the union of one man and one woman because of their unique ability to bring children into the world, which forms a stable and secure foundation for our society."