Jacquelyn Martin, Associated Press
Patricia Hawkins, 69, a psychologist, wipes a tear as the D.C. council introduces a bill allowing same-sex marriage.

U.S. House and Senate Democratic leaders are afraid to take a vote over same-sex marriages in Washington, D.C., says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

Chaffetz, although only a freshman, is the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee overseeing District of Columbia issues. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that there are enough votes on the district council to pass a same-sex marriage bill in the district.

As the creator and overseer of the district, Congress has 30 days after any new district law is passed to overturn the measure. But congressional Democrats are afraid to take that vote, Chaffetz said.

Republicans and conservative Democrats "would like to try to stop" a same-sex marriage law in the district, Chaffetz said. "And we should take a vote on it.

"But the Democrats have the House, the Senate and the White House. We're outnumbered."

The Washington Post quoted a number of congressional leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, saying Congress has too many critical issues, like health care, to take up a Washington, D.C., same-sex marriage bill now.

D.C. Councilman David Catania introduced the gay marriage measure Tuesday at a standing-room only council meeting. The independent and one of two openly gay council members said he hopes for a vote in December.

His bill specifically says religious leaders and institutions are not required to perform the marriages or rent their space for same-sex ceremonies unless they let the public use or rent them.

If the bill becomes law, the city will follow 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.

In the District of Columbia, the bill was co-introduced by 10 of the city council's 13 members and has the support of the mayor.

If Congress blocked the bill, it would be rare. In the past 25 years, Congress has rejected only three pieces of legislation

Last May the district council voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Congress didn't take up that district action, either.

However, a Maryland pastor told the Post that when the new law passes the district council, he will start a citizen initiative petition aimed at getting a repeal vote for district residents.

Bishop Harry Jackson of the Hope Christian Church says he believes that most district residents don't want to allow same-sex marriages in their city, and given the chance would repeal such a local ordinance.

If such an initiative got on the district ballot, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could be called upon by their church leaders to oppose legalizing same-sex marriage at the ballot box, as they were a year ago when California voters rejected a same-sex marriage law, Proposition 8, in that state.

"I believe traditional marriage (between a man and a woman) is supported by most people in the district, and most people in America," said Chaffetz, who himself opposes same-sex marriage.

If Congress were allowed to vote on the district's same-sex marriage law, "I don't think it" would be allowed to stand, he added.

"We would strike down the district's" legalization of gay marriage.

"That's why (Democratic leaders) will do everything they can to avoid a vote" in the House and Senate, Chaffetz said. "They will just block it."

e-mail: bbjr@desnews.com. Contributing: Jessica Gresko, Associated Press