By Patrick Madden
The "official" debate over gay marriage in the district is almost over. After months of heated hearings, failed attempts to put the issue before voters, and back and forth with local church groups, the D.C. council will take its first vote Tuesday on whether to let same-sex couples marry.
The district first entered the battle over gay rights in 1992, when it passed one of the country's first domestic partnership laws recognizing same-sex couples.
If the gay marriage bill passes, as expected, the district would become the sixth jurisdiction to allow gay marriage, and the first below the Mason-Dixon line.
"The city has always had this history of being a place where democracy is expanding," says local historian Bernard Dezmuk.
He says it dates back all the way to 1850, when the government banned the slave trade and D.C. served as a safe-haven for runaway slaves crossing the Potomac.
"It was also safe haven for Jews and for immigrants - such as Italians - that they could find a place where they where would be safe and they could work and live a dignified life."
Dezmuck says that tradition of expanding and protecting rights has continued over the years¦ the home rule charter in 1973, the contracting requirements for minorities in the eighties, and later on, the employment and housing protections for women and gays and lesbians.
The same-sex marriage bill will also face another District tradition: congressional interference. That 1992 domestic partnership bill¦ for ten years, congress refused to let the District fund it.
With democrats in control, the gay marriage bill seems to face better odds.