WASHINGTON -- The state of Maine has just legalized gay marriage and it appears New Hampshire's not far behind. But it's a decision in the tiny District of Columbia that could someday lead to same-sex marriage spreading nationwide.
The District Council Tuesday voted to recognize gay marriages performed in states where it is legal. Only former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry stood against the bill. He declared to fellow council members, "That's where I stand -- I'm going to vote no."
Former Mayor Called a Bigot
Barry warned that the measure could cause "a civil war" in D.C. because so many of the African-Americans that form a huge majority in this city are seriously opposed and consider same-sex marriage a sin.
One of the openly gay council members accused Barry of bigotry for his vote, saying Barry's past support of gays didn't matter.
David Catania, sitting just a few feet from Barry, stated, "To say 'well, I support domestic partnership or I support civil union' as a way to say 'I'm not that big a bigot,' and that's what it is."
Barry spat back, "That's not fair at all," as applause broke out in a crowd filled with black ministers and many others opposed to gay marriage.
But the council was definitely against Barry and voted 12-to-1 to recognize those gay marriages, despite that hostile crowd, which at one point shouted 'No! No!' as Jim Graham, the other openly gay council member, said, "An expression of love formalized between two people.isn't that what marriage is?"
Now Congress has to make a decision on the action, because it rules over D.C. So it has to either veto the same-sex marriage bill or let it stand. And it's likely to let it stand, which some analysts and pastors worry could set a legal precedent.
DOMA in Danger?
Bishop Harry Jackson is a leading opponent of same-sex marriage. At a rally of opponents to gay marriage outside D.C. City Hall just after the vote, Jackson told CBN News, "This will give the Congress the first opportunity it's had to weigh in on the question of whether the Defense of Marriage Act is legitimate nationwide."
If Congress goes along with D.C., same-sex marriage opponents worry that could ultimately lead to Congress re-examining, maybe even repealing, the Defense of Marriage Act - the 1996 federal law also known as DOMA that allows states to reject same-sex marriage performed in other states.
"It's going to go to Capitol Hill, and if Capitol Hill allows it to go through, it has national implications," said Pastor Terry Wayne Millender of Victorious Life Church in Alexandria, Virginia.
Possible Threat to Biblical Speech
D.C.'s move comes at a time when Congress is already considering a Hate Crimes bill that gives homosexuals protections by the federal government. Critics warn that if the bill becomes law, it could eventually criminalize biblical speech or positions if they're considered anti-gay.
"Are we going to now be judged and considered terrorists and bigots because we're holding fast to what we have always believed with conviction, with love and compassion?" asked Pastor King Rhodes of His Church International Christian Center in Springfield, Virginia -- a D.C. suburb.
"I believe that it's going to have a chilling effect," Jackson said, "if all these measures are passed, on the pastors and leaders who may very well be afraid to speak out in clear biblical terms about the lifestyle of gay people and the moral requirements of the gospel."
Ministers like Jackson who oppose gay marriage and so-called gay rights warn this is the time to fight or soon it might be too late.
"This issue in the next few years is going to be an Armageddon-like battle," Jackson explained.
Pastor Tom Breuner of D.C.'s Abundant Life Christian Fellowship said he was at the rally and fighting against gay marriage for future generations.
"One day I think we're going to be asked what we did at this time about this issue," he said.
"If we lose this battle, I think same-sex marriage will be the law of the land within two to three-and-a-half years," Jackson warned.