WASHINGTON — The next battleground over gay marriage could be the U.S. Capitol.
A preliminary vote by the District of Columbia City Council to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere puts the issue on a path to Congress, which has final say over the district's laws. That may force lawmakers to take up the politically dicey debate after years of letting it play out in the states.
"Let's be clear, this is a new era," openly gay D.C. council member David Catania said Wednesday, expressing optimism that the city's law would clear Congress after a final council vote in May.
He said the measure is the first key step toward eventually allowing gay marriages to be performed in Washington, too.
The council's unanimous vote Tuesday came the same day Vermont became the fourth state to legalize gay marriage and the first to do so with a legislature's vote. Court rulings led to same-sex marriages in the three other states where it's legal: Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa.
Like the measure approved in D.C., New York also recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere but hasn't issued its own marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples.
The situation in D.C. is unique, though. After the legislation receives final approval from the council, which is supposed to come next month, the bill is then subject to a 30-day congressional review. That review could be the new Congress' first opportunity to signal its appetite for re-examining the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows states to do the same.
Opponents said it remains to be seen whether a Democrat-controlled Congress will have any interest in repealing the city's efforts. Congress is in recess through April 17.