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In gay-marriage battle, D.C. shapes up as next big prize

As of Tuesday, Washington gives same-sex spouses the same rights as heterosexual couples. A full legalization of gay marriage could follow, some say.

Jonathan Paul Ganucheau kisses his bride, Denise Buckbinder Ganucheau, in a wedding ceremony in Washington, D.C. It was part of a May 5 protest against the District of Columbia's decision to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP/File

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Washington began recognizing gay marriages performed in other states Tuesday – a move that is being called a potential first step toward allowing same-sex couples to wed in the nation’s capital.

The district’s measure stops short of other laws in states such as Iowa and Vermont, which allow for same-sex wedding ceremonies. But it adds to their momentum.

Moreover, Washington would be a unique prize in the battle over gay marriage. Not only does it bring the issue to where the nation’s lawmakers live – making it part of the city's culture – but it also marks gay marriage’s first foray into a predominately black community.

Washington’s city council passed the law to give married same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples by a 12-to-1 margin in May – a vote that supporters hail as significant.

“Nationally, anti-gay rights activists have had a great deal of success in encouraging black voters to oppose gay rights, partially because [gay rights] are seen – incorrectly – as a ‘white issue,’” writes Adam Serwer on the website of American Prospect, a liberal magazine.

“But in Washington, D.C., the diverse composition of the marriage-equality movement means that marriage-equality activists don't have to ‘reach out’ to the black community, because they're already part of it," he adds.

But black leaders have said that the 12-to-1 vote is not reflective of the community at large. In a city where 56 percent of residents are African-American, there is little chance a gay-marriage law would be approved if put to voters, says Derek McCoy, a pastor at Hope Christian Church in suburban Washington.

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