The U.S. capital took a first step towards joining a handful of states that recognize same-sex unions as the city council voted to legalize gay marriage.
The bill to allow same-sex couples to wed was passed by 11 votes in favor and two against, said an official at the council, who asked not to be named.
Former Washington mayor Marion Barry and councilwoman Yvette Alexander voted against the bill.
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Mayor Adrian Fenty has promised to endorse the law, but because the US Congress has jurisdiction over governance in Washington, same-sex marriage will not become legal in the US capital until it survives a 30-day congressional review period.
The half-million-strong National Organization for Women (NOW) hailed the vote in favor of gay marriage, saying it was a sign that "discrimination against same-sex couples is coming to an end in this country."
NOW promised to monitor the congressional review of the law, and vowed to "activate its grassroots if an attempt to overrule the council gains any traction in Congress."
The Catholic church said that although it was opposed to the bill, which it sees as redefining marriage in a way that jars with the core teachings of the church, it would seek a way to continue to provide aid services to the needy in Washington.
"Since this legislation was first introduced in October, the Archdiocese of Washington opposed the redefinition of marriage based on the core teaching of the Catholic Church that the complementarity of man and woman is intrinsic to the definition of marriage," the archdiocese of Washington said in a statement.
But, it added: "The Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities are deeply committed to serving those in need, regardless of race, creed, gender, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. This commitment is integral to our Catholic faith and will remain unchanged into the future.
"We are committed to serving the needs of the poor and look forward to working in partnership with the District of Columbia consistent with the mission of the Catholic Church."
Reports earlier this month said the Catholic Church had threatened to halt charitable cooperation with Washington authorities if the same-sex bill was passed.
But a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, Susan Gibbs, denied the church had ever made any such threat.
The church was opposed to the language of the bill because it felt it would oblige Catholics and other faith groups to compromise their belief to uphold the new rules, Gibbs said, echoing an editorial published last month in the Washington Post by Archbishop Donald Wuerl.
"Despite the headlines, there has been no threat or ultimatum to end services, just a simple recognition that the new requirements by the city for religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriages in their policies could restrict our ability to provide the same level of services as we do now," Wuerl wrote.
Although same-sex marriage may have won a battle in Washington, it remains a hot-button issue among American voters, with the US federal government and most states choosing not to recognize gay marriage.
New Jersey's legislature earlier this month shelved a vote on allowing gay marriage in the state, and voters earlier this year in California, Hawaii and Maine have overturned in referenda the local government's approval of same-sex marriage rights.
Just five of the 50 American states have moved to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, through court rulings or votes in the state legislature.
Those states include Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont.
New Hampshire will allow gay marriage starting in January.
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