updated 10/6/2009 3:32:29 PM ET 2009-10-06T19:32:29

Same-sex couples would be allowed to marry in the U.S. capital under a bill introduced Tuesday by a city councilman. The bill was almost certain to pass and had been expected for some time. But whether it becomes law is more complicated because Congress gets to review legislation involving the capital before it takes effect.

The city began in July recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Congress did not oppose that legislation when it passed earlier this year.

However, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of the state of Utah said Tuesday he would work to have the bill defeated if the city council passed the measure, though he believed Democrats in Congress would likely block any vote.

"Some fights are worth fighting for," the Republican said. "This is one of them."

City councilman David Catania, who introduced the legislation at a standing-room only council meeting, is an independent and one of two openly gay council members.

‘Exciting journey’
"We are about to embark on an exciting journey here in the district," he said, referring to the federal enclave.

His bill defines marriage as "the legally recognized union of 2 people" and says that "any person ... may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender." It specifically said religious leaders and institutions are not required to perform the marriages or rent their space for same-sex ceremonies.

If the bill becomes law, the city will follow the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and Vermont, which issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. New Hampshire will begin issuing them in January.

The legislature in Maine has also passed a same-sex marriage bill, but voters will decide in November whether to reverse it. California briefly issued licenses before voters passed a law stopping the practice.

Congress can reject
In Washington, the bill was co-introduced by 10 of the city council's 13 members and has the support of the mayor. Because the district is not a state, however, its laws can be rejected by Congress before taking effect.

Blocking the bill would be rare, though. In the past 25 years, Congress has only rejected three pieces of legislation. According to Brian Flowers, the city's general counsel, the last time was in 1991, when Congress rejected a law that would have permitted taller buildings in the city.

More recently, in 1999, Congress amended a bill so that city medical marijuana would not be legalized. Congress also repealed a law that would have required city government employees to be city residents.

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