WASHINGTON, D.C. — On March 3, the nation’s capital joined five states in offering same-sex marriage. After applying and waiting for marriage licenses gay and lesbian couples began to wed March 9.

The D.C. Council overwhelmingly passed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Act of 2009 in December. The bill was signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty and transmitted to Congress for review. Marriage equality opponents attempted to stop the legislation from taking effect by proposing a referendum for D.C. voters.

However, the District’s Board of Elections and Ethics ruled — for the third time on the marriage issue — that the proposed ballot measure would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act and therefore was not a proper subject matter for the referendum process. A D.C. Superior Court judge subsequently denied opponents’ request for a preliminary injunction to stay the legislation. The D.C. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court also denied opponents’ emergency appeals for a stay.

The law took effect at the conclusion of the mandatory 30-day Congressional review period. During this time, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) introduced legislation that would have halted implementation of the new law. Both bills attracted only minimal support and did not move through their respective chambers.

Opponents of marriage equality continue to pursue a ballot initiative defining marriage between a man and a woman and, in the wake of several legal defeats, have appealed to the D.C. high court. The Court of Appeals has said it plans to hear oral arguments on whether the initiative can go forward in May.

The new law ensures that clergy and religious organizations are not required to provide services, accommodations, facilities or goods for the solemnization of a same-sex marriage.

In a statement issued March 3, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said, “Today represents a hard-fought victory for D.C. residents and a poignant reminder — here in the home of our federal government and most cherished national monuments — of the historic progress being made towards ensuring equality for all across the nation.

“Congratulations to the D.C. Council, Mayor Fenty and the many advocates of equality in our community who worked hard for marriage equality in D.C. and who will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that these basic rights are protected in the future. As the courts have uniformly recognized in upholding D.C.’s broad anti-discrimination laws, no one should have to have their marriages — or any of their civil rights — put to a public vote.”

Rev. Nathan Harris, pastor of Lincoln Congregational Temple (United Church of Christ) and a member of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, praised the new law. “Today is a historic day in our community for social justice and inclusion in keeping with the proudest traditions of our religious heritage.”

He added, “For too long it has been unjust to deny same-sex couples the opportunity to consecrate their relationships in the same way in which we allow opposite-sex couples. Our coalition of nearly 200 D.C. clergy believe that marriage equality fulfills our commitment to God’s love and justice. Nevertheless, we respect our friends who hold different views and are pleased that today’s law embraces our nation’s strongest traditions of religious freedom.”

> A bill has been introduced in the Senate to end the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010 was introduced March 3 by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and is co-sponsored by several senators including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). There is a companion bill of the same name currently pending in the U.S. House. The House version’s lead sponsor is Patrick Murphy (D-PA), an Iraq war veteran. The Obama administration and several high-ranking military leaders, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, have called for an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

> The 2010 Soulforce Q Equality Ride, a two-month national bus tour to Christian colleges, is underway. On March 5, the Ride made its first stop, at Valley Forge Christian College in Phoenixville, Pa. Twenty-five 18- to 29-year-old Equality Riders braved the cold weather and the jeers of anti-gay protestors to shed light on the damage inflicted by school policies that silence LGBT students. “We really wanted to show the students on campus that we love them, that God loves them, and that the most powerful message in the Bible for LGBTQ people is the message of love and justice,” said Equality Rider Jess Kalup. “I think despite the fact that the students were forced to stay on campus or be expelled, our presence and our love sent a very strong message.”

> Point Foundation, the nation’s largest scholarship-granting organization for LGBT students of merit, has announced the recipients of its Courage, Inspiration and Legend Awards. “30 Rock” star and Tony Award winner (“Nine”) Jane Krakowski, will receive the Point Courage Award; Citi will receive the Point Inspiration Award; author, political strategist and civil rights activist David Mixner will receive the Point Legend Award. The awards will be presented at Point’s annual New York benefit, Point Honors, which will be held April 19. The evening will be co-hosted by Kelly Ripa (“LIVE! with Regis & Kelly”).

> A new website devoted to gay-friendly tourism to Tel Aviv, Israel’s cosmopolitan city by the Mediterranean, is now online at www.Gay-Tel-Aviv.com. The site reflects the Tel Aviv Tourist Association’s increased interest in promoting Tel Aviv as a prime gay and lesbian destination. The site features a gay map, information about gay-friendly hotels, gay dance bars and gay-friendly pubs and restaurants, as well as other notes on activities and places to visit. : :

This article appears in the March 20-April 2 print edition.

David Stout is the former associate editor of QNotes.