The US capital Washington took a major step toward legalizing gay marriage on Tuesday, with a 13-member panel on the city council overwhelmingly voting in favor of the move.
The council voted 11 to two in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, according to spokesman Michael Price. A second vote is expected within weeks.
Mayor Adrian Fenty has vowed to pass the law, which has caused consternation among religious groups.
The Catholic church has warned it will stop joint aid projects with the city if the measures are approved and has asked for exemption from part of a law that would also ban discrimination against gay men and lesbians.
In a statement last month, the city's archdiocese said the rules "could prevent social service providers such as Catholic charities from continuing their long-term partnerships" with the city's government.
Programs at risk include adoption and foster care services and could affect 68,000 people who use the services each year, the church said.
The issue also remains contentious among American voters, with the US federal government and most states choosing not recognize gay marriage.
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.